A very simple and sour soupy fish curry with fresh ground spices and tang from sweet tamarind and vinegar. I found fresh mackerel at the store and was immediately inspired to make this.
There are no tomatoes or yogurt like most north indian fish curries here. The much needed sour comes from vinegar, the use of which is slightly inspired by how goan fish curries are done, however I didn’t use any coconut or coconut milk in this one.
With a bowl of warm rice and few sliced onions, this is absolute delight to eat. You can use any firm mild fish in this recipe. Fresh ground spices make the aroma of the curry even more bold and I really recommend you grind them fresh, incidentally that is the only time consuming part of this recipe.
3 Mackerel, cut into pieces (about 1 pound), cleaned
1/2 tsp tumeric powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp cooking oil
1/4 th piece star anise
1/2 cup thinly sliced onions
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch fresh ginger, minced
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1-2 tsp hot red chilli powder(adjust to taste)
6-8 curry leaves
1.5 tbsp malt vinegar (less if you like less sour)
2 tbsp tamarind pulp
1 tsp jaggery (skip if using sweet tamarind)
Salt to tatse
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
5-6 Black peppercorns
1/2 inch cinnamon stick
Place the fish in a bowl. Sprinkle the turmeric and salt over the fish and massage nicely. Set aside for 15 mins.
Dry roast all the spices listed under “Spices” and grind them to a powder using your spice grinder. Mix the spices with red chilli & turmeric along with a couple tablespoons of water in a bowl and let stand.
In a cooking pot, add the oil. Once the oil is smoky a bit, add the star anise and saute for 10 seconds. Add the onions next and let them brown. The onions have to be browned nicely for a good flavor. Once the onions are browned, add the ginger and garlic and saute for a minute or so till you smell the aroma.
Next add the curry leaves along with the spice paste, you can add a splash of water (about 3 tbsp) and cook everything together for a few minutes till you notice the oil separating. Dont saute a lot.
Add 1 cup warm water to the pot, add salt and let come to a slow simmer. Add the fish next to the pot and let cook on low heat for 7-8 minutes. Dont let boil. You can cover if you fish but really fish cooks fast.
Once you notice that the fish is white and firm, add the vinegar, tamarind and jaggery. Gently mix everything and let cook for another 2 mins.
Switch off the stove and cover the pot. Let sit for 2 hours before serving.
Meat and Potatoes. The universal comfort food. A ritual in my kitchen in the midst of cruel winters especially on days when the chilly winds clatter against the window panes, its grey and cloudy outside and inside my kitchen, meat is slow cooked long enough till it almost falls off the bone, the potatoes absorb all the flavor and the aroma of the spices permeates the atmosphere of house. A dish which evokes nostalgia of my mom’s mutton stew and of our first few years in the States.
My first tasting of lamb came in one of the ornate buffets here in Las Vegas in a mellow stew- crimson colored, cooked with carrots, speckled with herbs & tasting strongly of red wine. Since we do not consume a lot of lamb in India (mutton is more popular), we had only been roasting lamb rack ocassionally, completely oblivious of the fact how this meat would behave with spices. The tasting presented an opportunity to try it in my mum’s mutton & new potato slow cooked stouu , one in which the meat is first seared and then cooked for long good hours, often pushing lunch to evening tea time.
There is little match to the slow cooking method, for the meat slowly gives in to heat, the gelatinous flavor of the bone melts in the sauce lending it an unmatched edge over the rushed one.The key is to start ahead, much before meal time so that the stew does not miss a chance to rest for a couple of hours before serving. This stew is comforting, deeply flavorful & delicious with a earthly taste of starchy potatoes. You should give this a try before the winters go away!
Slow cooked bone in lamb and potato stew with fresh pounded spices and yogurt.
Course: Main Course
For the Stew
1 lbstewing lamb
4tbspmustard oil, substitute with cooking oil that you like to use
1 bay leaf
2inch cinnamon stick
1 cuponionsthinly sliced
2tsp hot red chilli powderadjust to tolerance
1/2 tspkashmiri chilli powder
1/3 cupplain greek yogurtslightly beaten
1/2 tspfresh grated nutmeg
Salt to taste
Coarsely pound together
2 tspblack peppercorns
Add the coarsely pounded spices to a bowl. Add the hot and kashmiri red chilli powder. Pour 1/4 cup of warm water, mix the spices into a paste and set aside.
In your dutch oven or any heavy bottom pot with lid, add the oil and let warm up for a few minutes until slightly smoky.
Add the black cardamom, cinnamom stick and bayleaf to the oil and saute for 10-15 seconds taking care not to burn the spices.
Next, add the sliced onions, sprinkle a pinch of sugar and let the onions brown. Keep on cooking them with stirring in between for 7-8 minutes till the onions are dark brown. This is important for color of the stew.
Once the onions are browned, add the lamb to the pot. Cook the lamb on medium low heat with onions for 8-9 minutes stirring continously untill you see that the lamb is browned on all sides and the edges are starting to turn dark brown.
Add the spice paste next, sprinkle 1 tsp of salt and mix well till the lamb pieces are covered in spices. Let the spices cook with lamb and onions for good 5 minutes. Make sure that they are not sticking to bottom. If you feel so, add a tablespoon or two of water.
Slowly you will see that the lamb will release its water and the contents of the pot will be slightly watery. Add 1/4 cup of hot water at this stage and cover the dutch oven.
Let the lamb slow cook for a low stove 2-3 hours(time depends on how big or small your pieces are as well as the quality of your meat). You will need to check time to time to make sure that nothing is sticking to the bottom, if so, add a splash of water.
Once the lamb is 90 percent cooked, keeping heat low, add the beaten yogurt and mix well rigrously else the yogurt will curdle. Saute the lamb with yogurt for 5-10 minutes untill you see oil bubbles on the sides of the pot. Check and adjust the salt at this stage. At this stage, lamb will be 95 percent cooked.
Add the potatoes to the pot, mix and cover the lid again.Let potatoes cook for 5-8 minutes or untill fork tender.
Once the meat and potatoes are done, take off the stove. Add nutmeg and gently mix everything well.
Things have been so quite here but not so much in my kitchen. Most days, we are eating fresh and home cooked, the kitchen is so busy but other priorities in life have made me slightly busy that there is less time to set up shoots and hence the lack of posts. But I guess, sometimes in life, you need to cut the routine to see how doing nothing or something different feels. This summer I am involving myself in things which I have not done in last few years, more on that later. It is good to be away for a while. Hope you missed me 🙂 However, I will keep this space buzzing whenever I can.Meanwhile, you can catch me on Instagram & Facebook.
I grew up eating it in small grey cardboard cups which had a flip lid. You flip away the lid and a couple of chubby brown raisins stared at you on top of blushing pink with soft bits of cashews scattered in. I always used my nails to pick the raisins out first and then the paddle shaped wooden spoon to scoop the rest. One cup disappeared after another in no time, sitting under the shade of kumquat tree in blazing indian summer heat, sweaty foreheads, dripping cream on our dresses and white foamy mustaches, oh to be a child again!
I came up with this recipe fueled by this tradition in my kitchen to come up with an ice cream recipe each summer.It came out amazing, like most homemade ice creams do. I used a subtle flavor of green cardamom but vanilla will work great also. The husband loved it.I loved it and so did our little girl who is fond of all things cashew. I hope you will love it too!
Update 10/03/2015 Recently Sinfully Spicy was included in Top 50 Blogs of India. Link here
Soak 1 cup raw cashews for 5-6 hrs. Drain. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add the soaked cashews and let boil for 5-8 mins. Drain and let cool down completely. Transfer to a blender and using 1/3 to 1/2 cup evaporated milk (or full fat milk) grind the cashews to a coarse paste.
Mix 2 cups of heavy cream with a 14oz can of condensed milk. You can add sugar(about 1/4 cup) if you want to adjust sweetness. Mix the cashews paste along with 1 tsp fresh ground cardamom. Combine well, transfer to the dish in which you want to freeze and freeze for 5-6 hours. When the mixture starts freezing and has a pudding consistency,add in handful of dry toasted cut up cashews(optional) along with 1/2 cup of golden raisins. Freeze overnight. Scoop and serve.
The first thing to be spotted in markets at the turn of April or May as soon as the short fairytale called winter is over is okra pods. It probably tops the list of summer vegetables in India. I would compare the hue and cry about it to sight of fresh tomatoes here. I would accompany my grandmother to our daily vegetable vendor, leaned over his cart and gazed at the pile of okra that occupied half of the space and observed how my grandmother chose the dark green, soft, slender ones while arguing about how costly he sold his produce. Almost each week, sometimes more than once, okra formed a part of our meals. My mother tells me that it was my grandfather’s favorite vegetable so our family recipe repertoire is packed with a lot of ways to cook it. As the summer progressed, by the months of July and august and with the knock of monsoons and okra slowly losing their crisp texture, only then the focus shifted to other vegetables.
However, it was not until I met the husband that I cooked okra with potatoes. Kid you not, I had not even heard about it in all my years of living in northern parts. It’s hard to say if his suggestion to do so was driven by his childhood food memories or his obnoxious need to combine potatoes with each and every food group possible, but the deal didn’t get too bad here and these two vegetables worked beautifully the first time I cooked them. We continued discussing for many years, each chance I got to get okra home as to how the recipe can get better and better until I mastered it.
These emerald looking, slender beauties pair with earthly flavor of starchy potatoes so well. On the lines of stuffed okra, I always add fennel seeds to my okra recipes and you will need to do that to know how deliciously this grassy vegetable braces the liquorice of that spice.Try it. The deal with dealing with all the nuances which people associate with okra is not to go too stingy on oil quantity as well as not to let the vegetable steam too much while cooking. I cover it for no more than few initial minutes after its added to pan and then continue cooking uncovered till its done, this preserves the beautiful color as well as eliminates the chances of mushy okra.
Wash okra thoroughly under running water. After washing spread them on a kitchen towel and let air dry for at least 2 hours. If you are in a hurry, thoroughly wipe out the okra with paper towels so that they are completely dry.
Halve or quarter the okra lengthwise or cut as you like them. Discard the bottoms and tips.
Peel the potatoes and cut them lengthwise. Try not cut them very thick or thin.
Heat up the oil on medium in a wide pan.Temper the oil with cumin, fennel and fenugreek seeds. Let crackle. Add the potatoes to the pan, sprinkle a pinch of salt,stir around to coat the potatoes. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and let the potatoes cook till 50%done.
Add the sliced onions and garlic next ,fry for 3-4 minutes till they start to soften and the onion starts turning brown on the edges.
Add the okra, powdered spices (except sugar, chaat masala & garam masala) and salt to the wok and mix well. Cover the lid and let cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. The okra will soften and start looking deep green .
Remove the lid, reduce heat to low and cook the okra for another 8-10 minutes till its cooked through and the potatoes are fork tender. Stir at intervals to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Once the okra & onions are soft,turn the heat to high, sprinkle the sugar and garam masala and saute for another 1-2 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.
A little while away, I got this immense craving to gorge on these sweet saffron rice. It was sparked by the sticky rice pudding that we relished a night before that day. Usually, if you follow me on Instagram or here on the blog, you would have noticed that there is more savory than sweet in my feed. I had this huge sweet tooth in my teens, but somehow it faded away as I grew older. There are certain things I enjoy, a delicious chunk of homemade gulab jamun and a moist slice of butter cake, but usually sugar doesn’t get me too too excited. Only when there is a good enough reason to make them, I retort towards making desserts at home. Buying a single serve slice from our favorite bakery almost always seems to be a superior option than baking and frosting a whole 9 inch round which will then lurk at me in the refrigerator for whole week. Its a bit too logical for some of you who swear by regular dessert making but that’s how I think.
Anyhow, that same night, chatting over a Thai food takeout, we delved into discussing new year traditions growing up. My husband recollected coconut sweet balls & rice pudding, both made with palm jaggery, a typical in east indian homes and I could only think of my grandmother’s zarda, only about it. That night, I must have dreamed about it. The little puffy, steamy bubbles that surface on the top layer when a pot of basmati is slowly boiled, or of the sniff of saffron which after filling each nook and corner of our big kitchen reached out to those sitting in the verandah through two large, dark brown windows with green painted grille. Next morning this sweet saffron rice was the only thing I could think of. Out of nowhere, in the middle of summer, but I just had to recreate those memories.
Each year, every year at the dawn of the first day of the year, I woke up to a quiet house with busy kitchen. BadI mummy (my grandma) standing right infront of the stove, rice boiling on one side and aroma wafting through a pot of simmering whole milk to which cloves, cardamom and nutmeg had been added. These blonde looking rice, she remarked were an incoming of prosperity into the house. In those days, we lived in a joint family and with few guests added on the new year eve along with distribution to all house help, the quantity of zarda to be cooked would be thrice the amount than usual. Speckled with ground cardamom and streaks of strong-smelling kashmiri zaffran(saffron) all through it, a bowl of it was so delicious garnished with a handful of nuts or raisins. Much like today, in those days saffron was exuberantly priced, so it came to life in cooking a few dishes on special occasions only. New Years day was one.
My mom got me these little packs of saffron from India a couple of weeks back, a delicate virgin variety of this spice, it is sharp and strong. A few strands is what it took to turn rice into a golden looking treat. This recipe can be easily made vegan by using full fat coconut or cashew milk and substituting any neutral oil in place of ghee. Try using a long grain basmati rice and be watchful during cooking period for separated, fluffy grains. I have included a few notes in the recipe which will help making this sweet rice delicacy an easy task.
Ingredients (Serves 3-4)
1 cup long grain basmati rice
1 green cardamom, break open
3-4 cups water to par boil the rice
1 tablespoon ghee (substitute with coconut oil for vegan)
1 cup whole milk (use unsweetened cashew/full fat coconut milk for vegan)
3 tablespoon ghee(substitute with coconut oil for vegan)
2-3 green cardamom, break open
1 heaping teaspoon good quality saffron
1 generous pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
3/4 cup granulated sugar (can go upto 1 cup)
3 tablespoon roasted, unsalted nuts (almonds, pistachios, cashews) + more for garnish
2 tablespoon golden raisins + more for garnish
Use good quality spices in this recipe.
Different varieties of saffron have different sharpness and strength. Adjust the quantity depending on the brand you are using.
To make the zarda more rich, instead of using roasted nuts, you can fry them in a small pan in 1/2 tablespoon of ghee and add on top.
Wash the rice under running stream of water 2-3 times until the water runs clear. Soak the rice for 45 minutes in enough water (add a green cardamom to it) required for parboiling. You can soak rice in the same pot that you will use for cooking.
Once the rice has soaked. Parboil the rice until 80% cooked (takes about 10 minutes).The cooking time will depend on quality of rice. To check the rice, take a grain and press it between the index finger and thumb. The rice grain will we brittle (break easily) and you will feel & see hard whitish bits in the center of the grain. Once the rice has parboiled, immediately drain it and gently mix a tablespoon of melted ghee in the warm rice.
While the rice is boiling, add milk, 3 tablespoon ghee, cardamom and clove to a small pot and set it to simmer on a medium low flame. Let milk simmer for 5-7 minutes on low heat and then put the stove off. Once the milk has cooled off a bit and is warm(not hot) to touch add sugar, saffron and nutmeg to it. Let sit.
In the same pot in which you parboiled the rice, add the warm spiced milk sugar mixture. Very gently add the drained rice to the milk. Add the nuts and raisins. Cover and let cook on medium low heat for 10-12 minutes until all the milk is absorbed and the rice is completely done. Put the stove off.
After 15-20 minutes of sitting, gently fluff the rice with the help a fork.Garnish with more nuts and raisins if you want.
Each summer, last few days of school before the break started were hectic. Even after the vacations started, I remember going to school for extra classes during the high school year. By the time I returned home around noon, I was welcomed in the verandah of our house filled with the intoxicating aroma that emanated from the khus ki chik, a rustic kind of air conditioner made from reeds and laid in the form of window blinds, using the loo (indian summer winds) as a natural fan to cool the space inside. Clasping the finger numbing cold tumbler of rose sherbet that mom kept ready in the refrigerator, I stationed myself in the lobby to observed ladies of the house sitting on the jute chatai (mat) on the floor. There were all sorts of labelled containers of what is inside what around them and stained brass paraat (wide, shallow plates) infront. Sitting with legs neatly folded on top of each other, very immaculately, they picked the lentils, sometimes arguing teasingly or plainly gossiping about relatives and neighbors,their deft fingers, picking the little stones or unhusked bits all the time.They scanned through minute grains scattered in the shallow dish, separating one from the other, unmistakably picking out the hard inedible parts and segregating the cleaned portion towards the other side of the paraat.
I guess ‘picking’ the lentils is a ritual followed in many indian homes, even though most of the lentils available in the markets these days are clean and processed. It’s a kitchen habit that is passed from a generation to other, more as a traditional than need. If it’s not an arduous number of hours to be spent, a vigilant scan of the beans and lentils is what I go through each time I am about to wash or soak.
In those years, it was dal – chawal for lunch or dinner everyday. The variety of lentil changed and so did its preparation and tempering but the menu, though a bit monotonous remained comforting. On bright, sunny summer evenings, chunks of fleshy lauki (indian summer gourd) were added to chana daal, slow cooked till the squash softened and then the turmeric hued boiled lentils were topped with a tadka (tempering) of slow caramelized onions & browned garlic, filling the kitchen with aroma ofghee & smoky cumin & green chillies. Fresh dhaniya (coriander leaves), exuberantly priced during summer months was especially purchased from our daily vegetable vendor, to be finely chopped and scattered while the daal was still hot. It did make a lot of difference.
If you know even a little about indian food, you would know that lentils are an everyday part of our meals, be it any time of the year. There are numerous ways of preparing and tempering them, native to each region of the country. The flavorings can vary from coconut, sugar, garlic to tomato based to curried to what not. This daal is my summer favorite. I guess every family has its own twist on it. Some temper it with just cumin, leaving out the garlic or onions, while some prepare it with coconut and mustard seeds. I had the opportunity to taste a variation tempered with curry leaves at one of my friend’s place. There is no right or wrong, just a choice. This is the beauty of indian food, it has no set rules. The same basic ingredients convert to a delicious outcome depending on who is handling them.Here, in my recipe, you could or could not add the squash even though it makes it hearty. Paired with rotis or steamed rice, salad and a dollop of chili achaar, it is such a satisfying complete meal for hot evenings.
2-3.5 cups of water (adjust depending on the desired consistency)
1 small bottle gourd (peeled and cut into 2″ batons)
Lime juice to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro to garnish
For the Tadka (Tempering to be added after the lentils have cooked)
3-4 tablespoon ghee (or use oil for vegan version)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 small clove
generous pinch of hing powder (asafoetida)
1 small red onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2-3 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
2-3 dried whole kashmiri chillies
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder (or to taste)
Replace lauki (bottle gourd) with your choice of summer squash (yellow squash is a good choice over green ones). You can skip the squash all together too.
The cooking time mentioned in this recipe are for split lentils. If you use whole lentils the cooking time would be more.
Hing or asafoetida is a strong, aromatic spice available both in crystal and powdered form.A little goes a long way. It gives a unique flavor to daal but can be skipped if you do not have it.
If you are vegan, use any oil in this recipe instead of ghee. Coconut oil might not be a very good choice since the spice selection in the recipe does not go great with it but any neutral oil or olive oil is fine.
Thoroughly wash the lentils under running water 2-3 times. Drain and transfer the washed lentils to a pressure cooker and add 3 cups of water. Let soak for 30 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, ginger (if using), hing, ghee, turmeric and salt. Put on the lid and pressure cook the lentils on medium heat for 3-4 whistles (This cooking time will depend on the quality of lentils, so adjust). Take off the heat and let sit on the counter till the pressure releases out of the cooker.
If you do not have a pressure cooker, use a heavy bottomed pot with lid and cook the lentils for around 30-40 minutes or till 95% cooked.
Once you open the lid, with the help of a whisk or a spoon, mash the lentils a bit so that they are chunky-smooth consistency. I like my lentils to have some texture, however you can mash them to consistency desired.
Add the chunks of lauki and return the pressure cooker to the stove. Cover with a plate or a lid and let simmer (not pressure cook) on medium heat for 15-20 minutes until the gourd is completely soft. If you like a thinner consistency of dal, add a cup or more of water.If you add extra water, let simmer for another 5-7 minutes on medium heat. Ideally, for this kind of daal, once it’s cooked, the grain should be intact in its shape but completely soft or cracked to look at.
While the dal is simmering, make the tadka. In a small sauce pan, heat up the ghee. Add the cumin seeds & clove, let crackle, about 15-20 seconds. Add the whole dried chillies and let them turn darker in color. Lower the heat and immediately add the onions and garlic and let cook till they are golden brown, taking care not to burn.(Tadka can become very hot very quickly, take care that you act fast so that nothing burns.) Put off the heat and add the red chili powder. Immediately add this tadka to the simmered lentils and cover so that the aroma infuses. Let sit undisturbed for 10-15 minutes.
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).
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.
I always feel that I end up cooking many dishes just to re-create a special memory, securely nestled in my heart from the years gone by or from days of growing up. Sometimes the sight of the familiar ingredients at the store brings in with itself such a gush of thoughts that I won’t have anyother way except cheering myself up in the kitchen with them,cooking up a storm to recreate those flavors. Fresh peas during spring time, is one of such thing. For less than a second,the sight of exuberantly prized organic sweet peas at the grocer last week made little sense coupled with the effort required to prepare them. But then, I could not walk away without securing a pound in my cart to make some this luscious matarpaneer – fresh shelled peas and soft unaged cheese in a spicy sauce redolent of sweet-smelling cardamom and sharp hints of cinnamon and cloves in contrast to the sweetness of the vegetable.
I don’t remember a single time during childhood when we ate frozen peas.Fresh peas were a winter treat and the only way. My grandmother and other women of the family, after serving lunch, geared up for dinner,pulling chairs around the takht (a very old wide wooden bench still going strong in verandah of my badi mummy’s house), settling down with cups of cardamom chai and spent few good hours to shell three or four kilos of grassy, plum pods, gossiping about the neighbors or the relatives, working with remarkable patience, a virtue that comes hard to me when I know there is a ready to use pouch inside the freezer.
When I am engrossed in such strong weaved memories, at times, it becomes difficult to tear away and lend to the present. The joy continues, the nostalgia gets compelling. When I spent about half hour over the weekend in the company of these fresh peas I got, I felt like a child again, badi mummy teasing me to lend help and just not nibble on the seeds.It was raining outside and I felt like a child again,some eighteen or twenty years back, me wearing hand knitted, red colored socks,running away with fistfuls of matar dana. All laughs, so much fun.
Then suddenly, I feel the warmth of my daughter from behind, trying to lift her body on heels to reach for the bowl of seeds that I just shelled.Her smile breaks the array of thoughts. She is like mommy.
Matar paneer is a classic north indian dish. I have always liked it on the spicy side with the creaminess limited to that from the paneer (fresh indian cheese). Each home in india has its own version of it, there is nothing wrong or right become curry are so versatile that way.The curry is naturally gluten free since paneer is a gluten free cheese. You can very easily make this recipe vegan friendly using tofu, or any other vegan substitute. I am sharing my mom’s recipe with a little bit of extra spices added in.
Matar Paneer – Fresh Peas & Indian Fresh Cheese in a aromatic and spicy tomato – onion sauce
Ingredients (Serves 2-3)
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 medium tomatoes (yield about 3/4 cup fresh tomato puree)
1 fat garlic
6 oz paneer (about 200 grams, homemade or store-bought, cubed, use extra firm tofu for vegan)
1/4 cup mustard oil (or use olive/vegetable oil)
1/3 cup onions, finely chopped
2 green cardamom
1/4 inch piece of dalchini (cassia bark, substitute with 1/2 inch piece of regular cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon red chilli powder (adjust to taste, substitute with 1/2 teaspoon cayenne)
1/2 teaspoon kashmiri chilli powder (this lends the color not the heat, substitute with paprika)
salt to taste
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
1/2 cup -1 cup water (depending on the desired consistency of sauce)
1 teaspoon kasuri methi, crushed between palms
1/2 teaspoon garam masala (adjust to taste)
2-3 tablespoon of heavy cream (optional, I did not use, skip for vegan )
Fresh cilantro & ginger juliennes to garnish and serve
If you are using fresh peas, shell the pods. If using frozen, thaw the peas.
Blend the tomatoes along with garlic to a fine puree. Set aside.
Soak the paneer cubes in warm water. Set aside. If using tofu, dry it using paper towels, cube it and let sit.
Heat up the mustard oil in a large pot, wait till you see little ripples on the surface, add the onions along with cardamom, clove, dalchini & cumin seeds.Saute for 5-6 minutes till the onion start to turn light brown.
Add the coriander, turmeric, red chili, kashmiri chilli powder next and sauté for less than a minute. Add the blended tomatoes and reduce heat to low.Let cook slowly till you see little bubbles of oil separating on sides of the pot and the spice paste glistening. At this point, add the peas along with chopped ginger,add salt, stir to combine together with spice paste and on low heat, saute for 3-4 minutes. Add about 3/4 cup water, mix well and cover the pot with a lid. Cook for about 15-20 minutes till the peas are soft (but not mushy).Uncover and add the kasuri methi and garam masala along with paneer cubes. Stir, and again cover and on low heat, let simmer for another 10-12 minutes.
Add the heavy cream (if using) next and simmer (not boil) on very low heat for another 2-3 minutes.Once the sauce has simmered, let sit for at least 45mins -1hour or till ready to serve.
Once ready to serve, warm up the sauce and serve immediately. You can garnish with cilantro, extra cream and ginger juliennes.
It was one of the most important day of my life as we drove through wide but still crowded roads due to evening traffic, long after sun down to Kashmiri Gate, to the university campus in Old Delhi to figure out if I made it to that year’s list of DCE or Delhi College of Engineering. I remember me and mom sat and waited in the car while dad walked out to check the notice board. Those fifteen minutes,that day, might have been the longest of my life, as I sat and observed the varied expressions of cheer and dismay on the faces of others coming out of the red-painted door and then walking towards the crowded parking lot. As many parents passed our car, clear among the noisy chaos of honks and shouting kin, I could hear the conversations of celebrations, as also the consoling whispers of ‘there are few more results left’. Every time those sounds touched my ears, my heart rejoiced for half a second and next moment, the random thoughts weaved an abyss against hope. I might have blinked my eyes lesser than usual, my throat felt dry and itchy but my glances just waited for dad to emerge out of that red-painted door. I could hear mom’s cell phone ringing constantly, every other relative & rest of the family calling in to check if I ‘got through’. She pretended to be normal, but I could segregate the egdy tones of anxiety when she uttered ‘pata nahi‘ (don’t know).
The engineering entrance exam system in India gets more tough each year than the actual exam itself mainly due to the exponential increase in number of takers. Colleges in big metropolitan cities are more sought after and it definitely boils down to minute differences in performance to rank you higher or not. I had been preparing for this exam for almost a year and as expected I was nervous on the result day. Badly.
It was 7:43 pm. Dad emerged out of the door with a flat face.My heart skipped a beat and I started sweating like a pig. I could feel my ear lobes turning red and my throat choking. We could not keep inside the car anymore and I forced myself and ran to him. Mom rushed after. I looked at him with deer eyes.He still kept a straight face. I don’t remember but for the first time in last fifteen minutes I would have opened my palms to clutch his sleeve. He looked at us and with the most lovely smile spreading across his face that I might have witnessed ever, he said ‘ho gaya, mithai khilao‘ (You got in, get the sweets!). Tears rolled down my eyes. Music to my ears. The world at my feet. I was through!
Mithai or sweets form an integral part of indian culture.Each occasion of life is celebrated with them.The streets and neighborhood of the country are dotted with sweet shops and if you find ever yourself stuck in a desert, you would be less than a mile away from one. ‘Peda‘ is one of the popular sweets from the ‘Uttar Pradesh’, the part of India my mother hails from and these are essentially fudgy, thick, semi soft, sweet chunks made with mava (milk solids)sugar and ghee. However, these fudgy cashew almond peda, I made are dairy free as well as need very few ingredients for preparation.My daughter loves any mithai made with cashews, so these were mainly made for her though we enjoyed them as well. The slight hints from the orange paired very well with the nuts even though the aroma of sweet green cardamom is more prominent. These could get addictive. These gluten-free, vegan balls can be an excellent after school snack. Make some and enjoy!
Glutenfree, Dairy Free & Vegan sweet fudge made with cashew and almond meal.
Ingredients (Makes 25 )
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1.5 cup cashew nut meal (or powdered raw cashews)
1 cup almond meal (or powdered raw almonds)
1/2 tsp fresh orange zest
6 green cardamom pods, seeds crushed
1 tbsp ghee (optional, required during kneading, use any vegan substitute)
1/2 cup powdered sugar to roll
In a wide, heavy bottomed pan (I use my 12″ skillet) or a kadhai, mix up the sugar and water. Set the pan on low flame and let the sugar dissolve. Stir (I use my rubber spatula) the solution once or twice while the sugar dissolves so that the sugar does not stick to bottom of the pan. Meanwhile, grease the surface that you will be using to knead with 1/2 tablespoon ghee.
Once the sugar has completely dissolved, add the cashew and almond meal to the pan. Mix everything and brace yourself for some hard work. Keep on stirring and stirring as the mix cooks on low flame. The process will be slow in the beginning and you will feel that it will take forever but do not worry. Keep on stirring, scraping the mixture on low flame, do not let the mixture stick to the sides of the skillet.
After about 20-22 minutes, you will see that the mixture starts thickening and coming together.We will shortly be getting there, once the mixture is thick, do not bother much about scraping the sides as they will be really dry. Around 24 minutes, the mixture will start resembling a soft, sticky dough and will clump up around the spatula. If you try to bring the mixture together in one place on the skillet, it will try to slowly spread (similar to how a glug of cold honey spreads on a surface). Mix in the orange zest and crushed cardamom. Put off the stove.
Immediately transfer to the greased surface and leave to cool a bit until its safe to handle.Once the dough has cooled slightly, rub a teaspoon of ghee on your hands and very gently knead the dough for 2-3 minutes. Remember that the dough needs to be warm when you knead so just wait till its safe to touch, do not let it cool down completely, else it will not knead and remain grainy.Do not press very hard as you knead else the nuts will start oozing their oil. You can grease you hands or the dough with ghee in between if it starts feeling sticky.
While the kneaded dough is still warm, pinch small portions of it and roll into a smooth ball. Roll the balls in powdered sugar.
Once cooled, store the peda in air tight container for up to a week.
Thank you for stopping by!
The time of cooking noted in this recipe will vary if you are using any other kind of sugar than granulated, since the water content of different varieties of sugar is different.
You can use any kind of flavorings – saffron or kewra (screw pine water) instead of orange zest & cardamom.