Baingan Aloo (Eggplant & Potato Stirfry)

Sinfully Spicy - Baingan Aloo, Eggplant & Potatoes Stir fry #indianEggplant season is here and I am all over it. Biting into that sweet flesh dotted with soft seeds, I always admire how this delicious vegetable absorbs any kind of goodness thrown to it in good measure.Be it the flavored oils or the profusely strong-tasting spices,squirts of citrus or a mellow yogurt dressing, it takes all. Robust yet so simple and earthly to relish, I have been regularly making eggplant  pakoras and bharta, roasting it, open fire grilling it and what not.

I totally disliked it as a kid and the same was true for most members of our family. Except for pakoras, I rarely touched it. In the real way, I embraced it as an edible item during those couple of years when I turned a pure vegetarian.

I always like September for the overlap it brings – the summer bounty is still in the markets but the autumn produce can be spotted on the stands. I am still getting to slice fresh strawberries for my daughter’s breakfast and at the same time I hand over crunchy apples to her as a snack. It is so fascinating how seasons change and that change is first thing evident in the farmer’s markets. I went for grocery shopping the labor day weekend and was surprised how pears and apples have popped overnight on the stands.Can you believe I spotted a few pumpkins and parsnips already! Gosh, where did summer go.

For us, especially on the days when like to keep it meat free, a simple meal comprises of lentils, a dry vegetable curry and rice. We sit down to eat together, mostly eat with our fingers, squeezing out that juicy flesh off the peel, smashing the potatoes and mixing it in with ghee smothered dal-rice. Yum! If not with rice, you could roll this up inside whole wheat flatbreads if you like. Go make some before the season goes away.

Ingredients (Serves 2-3)

  • 4 tbsp mustard oil (or olive/canola oil)
  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek seed
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1/4 tsp hing (asafoetida powder)
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled & cut (I use yellow potatoes)
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, divided
  • 1 medium globe eggplant or 4-5 japanese eggplants
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped tomatoes (I use fresh roma)
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder (or to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp amchoor (dry mango powder, skip or use fresh lime juice to taste)
  • scant pinch of garam masala (optional but lends a nice smoky hint)
  • 1 tsp kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped Cilantro to garnish

Method

In a kadhai/wok, heat up the oil. If you are using mustard oil you will need to heat it up for up to 1-2 minutes to do away the raw smell. Just take care that is not smoking. Once the oil is hot, reduce the heat to low and add the fenugreek and cumin seeds.Let crackle. Immediately add the garlic and hing. Let cook for 5-7seconds taking care they do not burn.  (You do not want the garlic to turn bitter as it changes the taste of the recipe, take the kadhai off the heat if you feel that its too hot)

Add the potatoes next and let their outer surface crisp up for 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle a little salt and 1/4 tsp turmeric powder as they brown. Next, add 1 tbsp water, cover and let cook on medium low heat till the potatoes are 50% tender.

Meanwhile, wash the eggplant and cut it up roughly the same size as the potatoes.

Add the eggplant along with tomatoes, rest of the turmeric, red chili and dry mango powder. Also add the salt. Mix well so that everything is covered in spices. Cover and let cook till both eggplant and potatoes are tender. On medium low heat this should take 7-10 minutes.(This time will depend on the variety and size of the vegetables)

Take off the lid and sprinkle the garam masala and kasuri methi. On high heat, gently toss everything for another 1-2 minutes.

Garnish with cilantro & serve.

Kesar Kulfi

Late Summer. The days are filled with blueberries and peaches and cherries before the seasons changes.This year we had an overdose of summer bounty in the house since most of our produce shopping was from Costco, there was hardly a day when we were out of fruits.May sound impatient, but I want those crunchy sweet tart apples and soft pears and ruby-red  pomegranates and rest these berries till next summer. In lieu of new, I picked up my first fresh figs this summer (yup, it took me five odd years to do that since I moved to the States) and kind of liked them but still didn’t understand the craze. The ones I ate though sweet,had a slightly slimy aftertaste so maybe they were unripe? Anyhow, the evenings turn up sooner and are much cooler than a past few weeks back.We are having a few rain spells every ten days or so which I am liking a lot since those are rare in this part of the world. I am barely able to decide if the air conditioning should be turned on or not all night even though I am waking up cold for last few days.

Talking of few weeks back, I broke my blender jar, it came shattering down on our tiled floor.The following day my year old Panini maker gave in as soon as I plugged it in. I smelled smoke and saw a spark. Short circuit. Dang. In the latest, every time I use it, I hear a scratchy sound while our food processor runs,looks like it will join that gang soon. Good lord. Just wondering if all the universe has joined hands against my kitchen equipment or is it really a coincidence?

The only good thing that happened was this kulfi, laced with saffron threads and sweet cardamom aroma.I badly needed to make something comforting to calm me down.A childhood ice cream treat from the streets,as kids we licked a few sticks each afternoon from the kulfiwalla(vendor) who visited our neighborhood. Needless to say, it was dirt cheap (may be few cents if you convert the currency) but came with huge flavor and texture. Traditionally, whole milk is simmered for hours and hours till it reduces to half its volume, the fat goes up and so does the sugar and protein content.Flavors are then added and its frozen immediately, no churning or custard business needed here.   As time and occasion permits,these days it also depends on how cranky the toddler is, I use either ways to make kulfi, sometimes I start with whole milk and sometimes with cans of evaporated milk or half and half to shorten the process.  This time, the husband offered to watch the little one and I took the traditional route – just like how mum used to make it at home filled with toil and sweetness of love.

Ingredients (Serves 6)

  • 5 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup mava (milk solids, see recipe here to make your own, omit if you do not have)
  • 1 no 14oz sweetened condensed milk can
  • 2 tbsp fine rice flour + 2-3 tbsp whole cold milk (to dissolve)
  • 1/4 cup almond meal (or any nut of choice)
  • 1 tsp heaping saffron threads+ 1.5 tbsp warm whole milk (to dissolve)
  • 1/4 tsp green cardamom powder
  • Silvered almonds to serve 

Notes

  1. This recipe yields a lightly sweet kulfi (which is how it should be) but you can add more condensed milk or sugar as per taste.
  2. Addition of mava lends the kulfi both richness and a chewy texture but it can be skipped.
  3. Ideally, kulfi is not creamy, rather lightly chewy and grainy.
  4. You could use cornstarch in place of rice flour
  5. Substitute almonds with any kind of nuts (pistachios, cashews)

Method

In a heavy bottomed pot, bring milk to a boil. Once the milk is boiling, reduce heat to low and let cook down with constant stirring. You do not have to stand by the stove but check and stir every 10-12 minutes so that the milk does not stick to the bottom or sides of the pot.You will need to keep on scraping the side of the pot while you stir.  Depending on fat/water content of the milk it could take 3-5 hours for the milk to reduce to half of its volume.

While the milk is cooking, crumble or grate the mava (if using),there should be no lumps. Set aside. Dissolve the rice flour in cold milk and let sit. Crumble up saffron threads between palms of your hands and dissolve in warm milk. Set aside.

Once the milk has reduced, it will be light brownish in color, much thicker in consistency. Add the rice flour slurry to the pot with continual stirring (so that no lumps are formed) and let cook for 5 minutes on low heat . The mixture will thicken further and become smooth. Add the mava next and cook for another 5-8 minutes so that it softens a bit.

Remove from heat. Add the condensed milk, almond meal, dissolved saffron and cardamom powder to the milk mixture and combine well. Let sit to cool down,

Pour into kulfi moulds or popsicle moulds. Freeze for 24 hours with lid on.

Once ready to serve, use a sharp knife to loosen the edges and unmold the kulfi. You could run the mould under a stream of water to loosen it. Serve as it is or sliced up with nuts and falooda (recipe here)

Vegetable Fried Rice

With the summer in full swing, this easy fried rice is suddenly a favorite in the house for quick meals.Combining deeply flavored,saltiness of dark soy sauce with nuttiness from sesame oil, the sweet crunch of fresh vegetables and hints of aroma from indian spices, this rice comes together in no time if you have a big rice portion leftover from last meal. The recipe can be twisted and turned to suit the occasion and the crowd you are serving to – add any assortment of vegetables (or fruits - pineapple, apricots, raisins)and any protein you like. Though a warm bowl is good on its own but I like to make hot chicken or manchurian along side sometimes for a hearty meal.Someone like me who prefers flatbreads to accompany our meals is enjoying it a lot.

 I had conveniently forgotten but when WordPress wished me a lot many years to fly with them, I realized!! Four summers. It has been four years of sharing little anecdotes of my life and recipes with all of you.Sometimes I wonder how much memories from life back in India and childhood or teens could my mind still retain even though I always thought otherwise. It has been a gratifying journey so far. Thank you for the love and support.This blog has been a wonderful nook to share and connect with all you who are hungry for indian food. Thank you so much for your interest and loving my country’s cuisine.

Coming back to the recipe, I quite marvel at the brilliant concept of fried rice in asian cuisine. From Thai to Indonesian to Filipino, each fried rice is different yet wonderfully flavored. I have talked about indo chinese cuisine in my past posts and this recipe is another addition to that collection. This indian style fried rice  stems from the chinese variant but the use of spices lend it notes of warmth and aromatic smokiness. I have been making fried rice for many years and have learnt a few things through trial and error. I guess this is the right post to share my little tips with you.

Ingredients (Serves 3-4)

  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 .5 tbsp pure sesame oil
  • 3-4 fat garlic pods, finely chopped
  • 1 Thai green chili, slit
  • 1/3 cup red onion, finely sliced
  • 6 scallion stalks, green & white parts chopped separately
  • 3/4 tsp ginger, minced (adjust to taste)
  • 2 cups shredded/julienned vegetables (I used cabbage, green&red bell pepper, blanched green beans, carrots)
  • 3 cups cooked rice, cold
  • 2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • scant pinch of turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp red chili flakes (adjust to tolerance)
  • 3/4 tsp Chilli tomato Sauce (I use this, you could use ketchup or 1/2 tsp tomato paste)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 tbsp white vinegar (adjust to taste)
  • 1.5 tbsp butter, melted (optional, see notes)
  • chopped cilantro

Notes

  • Adding butter at the end may seem a bit unusual, but this is a small secret I learned from the husband who makes some mean fried rice. Try it.
  • The rice from the this recipe has pronounced hints of ginger, you can omit or cut down the quantity if you do not like it.
  • You can vary the ratio of neutral oil to sesame oil based on your liking. You could even cook using either of the oils, I am just sharing the ratio that we prefer.
  • Add tofu, fried egg, pre cooked shrimp,chicken or any kind of protein in the recipe just at the end and warm it through with the rice.

Method

Heat up the sunflower & sesame oils in a wide skillet or pan ( I use 12″) on medium high. Add the garlic and green chili to the oil and sauté for 20-30 seconds or so till you see tiny blisters on the chili skin. Take care that the garlic doesnt burn. Add the red onion next along with white scallion parts. Saute for 2-3 minutes on medium high till the onions soften and begin to turn light brown.At this point add the ginger along with the chopped vegetables.Sprinkle a pinch of salt and let the vegetables cook for 2-3 minutes till they are tender but not mushy and still have a bite. (This time will depend on how thick/thin you have cut the vegetables).

Next turn the heat to lowest possible on your stove and add the cold rice to the pan.Also add the soy sauce,turmeric, garam masala, red chili powder & chili tomato sauce. Toss around so that the rice is covered in all therse . Check and adjust the salt (remember that if you are adding butter at the end, it has salt too). Turn the heat to medium for a minute or so till the rice is warmed through.Do not stir too much

Put off the heat and while the rice is still warm, add the green scallion parts, vinegar, butter(if using) and chopped cilantro. Using fork or chopsticks toss around and serve immediately.

Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by!

Tandoori Chicken

On 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!

Fish in a Light Mustard Sauce

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

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


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

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

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

Ingredients (Serves 2)

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

For the Sauce

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

Notes 

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

Method

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

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

Chole Paneer

Chandani Chowk,one of the busiest area in Old Delhi has been around for more than three centuries. Wiki tells me that all the merchants & invaders who ever crossed the walled city flocked past it,thus speaking volumes about its popularity and worth. The congested lanes dotted with shops selling linen,clothing, jewellery, books, electronics, footwear and what not turn so busy after noon,the peak time when the wholesale dealings begin that you could skip a breath trying to carve your way past them. Being in hurry is a way of life in this part of the city which is eternally teeming with people but has something to offer to everybody who lands here.

For me, the area is one of the best places to shop and eat if you happen to be in Delhi. It has a charm, a retro yet modern feel which is missing inside the food courts & malls.However, it is quite unfortunate that I caught on to the magnificence of the area quite late. I remember my first time there with dad and how claustrophobic I felt. In an effort to catch the glimpse of the sky, I looked up and all I saw were a cacophony of electric wires and the countless birds sitting on them, the rows of laundry sun drying and dilapidated balconies of houses, spaced at arm’s length from one another.

It was again during school years that I visited the place for our book hunting and chaat (street food) tasting hangout with friends. In those years, the Delhi Metro was still in the works and reaching Chandani Chowk from my home meant commuting through a couple of buses to a central point & then either hopping on to a rickshaw or walking down to your destination.It took effort, a whole lot of it.

I thronged the area much more during my pre wedding months, the place is a heaven for women interested in shopping for bridal gear and mom and me really looked forward to our Saturday shopping trips.We used to catch the morning metro as early as possible to get there and finish by noon before the shopper frenzy started.

For obvious reasons I skipped breakfast on those days.The food choices were unlimited and dreamy.We ate a different thing at a different eatery each time. It was on one of those trips that I discovered Chole Paneer from a street side eatery, served with ribbon thin onion rings and puffy bhaturas (fried flatbread) and hot, really hot pickle. It is fit to be the best chickpeas dish I have eaten in a long long time.Oily, spicy and creamy from soft melt in the mouth chunks of paneer, I am already salivating as I write this after so many years, so you can imagine what I mean here.

Over the years, I have come up with a recipe which (sort of) caters to the needs & tastes of my family – the husband doesnt want the ‘yellow’ from turmeric and if he had his way he would pick out the paneer too. I like how the lightly mashed chickpeas pick up the milky richness from paneer and would not give up on that ever! Although in the real world, I serve it with naan or kulcha,I bet they are no comparison to those oil drenched soft bhaturas!

 

Aam ka Achaar – Green Mango Pickle

If you grew up in northern India in the 80s when the sandwich & muffin culture had still not hit the subcontinent, most of you would have eaten rolled up greasy parathas (flatbread) with achaar(pickle) and a dry sabzi for school lunch. I remember that during our half hour lunch break, first fifteen minutes were to eat inside the class after which you could walk out and play or move around the school complex.I am sure many of you would have tasted pickles from friend’s dabba and talked lengths of it to mom till the point of sounding mean. If she gave into your meanness, you would find her next day noting down the recipe from your friend’s mother at the end of the school hours.

 In India, pickles or achaar is a line of cuisine in itself. Quite unlike the way western world understands pickling with vinegar and minimal spices or herbs, indian achaar are preserved in litres of oil, cups of salt and sack full of spices.You don’t call it a pickle unless oil runs down your fingers when you pick up a nibble and a strong, piquant aroma fills up the nostrils. Each and every home has a unique recipe or more depending on how the ladies of the house like to preserve their jar. Usually served as a part of meal for that tang and heat or to aid digestion or just to entice the senses, a few bottles of pickles form a part of every Indian kitchen varying in produce from season to season.In my home, the pickled root vegetables are stocked in winter months and usually both red & green chilies are pickled around spring but summer is for limes and of course, the mango!

I found kairis (small tart, indian variety green mangoes) a couple of weeks back at our local store. For the last four years or so that I have been a regular there,this was the first time ever I spotted these.Still questioning if  they were the actual ones (aka direct export from India), I only bought home six or seven,thinking all the way of what all I want to do with them.The first thing I did after putting the bags down was to rush to the kitchen and cut open a piece with a sharp knife and there it was – a white, opaque soft seed and tart flesh.I sniffed the sweet but tangy aroma.OMG, this is it. They were the real deal! I pestered the husband immediately to rush back and if anyone of you saw a crazy woman coming out of the store with couple of pounds of green mangoes in the South Las Vegas area, now you know who it was.

This achaar with raw,green mangoes is sour and hot.I use virgin mustard oil for preserving it and it lends the unique taste and aroma to it. Raw mangoes are chopped into small pieces,dried in the sun, mixed with different spices to give an aromatic & bitter note then covered in oil for the pungency. The sun cooking (fermentation) for a few days eliminates the need of refrigeration to keeps it well for a up to a year.The concentration of salt, oil and spices act as a natural preservative and you don’t need of any chemical to enhance its shelf life.

Printable Recipe 

Ingredients (Makes about 16 oz)

  • 1 lb green mangoes
  • 2 tsp saunf (fennel seeds)
  • 2 tsp methi (fenugreek seeds)
  • 3/4 tsp kalonji (nigella seeds)
  • 1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp rai (brown mustard seeds)
  • 1.5 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp red chili powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp powdered hing (asafoetida)
  • 1.5 tsp Salt + more if required
  • 250-300 ml virgin mustard oil,divided

Notes –

  1. Never under salt the pickle, it will go bad within few weeks.
  2. 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.
  3. The kind of mangoes I used were really tart and so the pickle came out quite tangy. If you do not get pickling mangoes, add some amchoor (dry mango powder) to the recipe for a tart note.
  4. This is not an instant pickle recipe, the pickle is sun fermented and takes 7-10 days to mature and get ready to consume.

Method

Wash and pat dry the mangoes. Cut and discard the top stem and then cut them into half, remove and discard the seed & membrane and then cut into small cubes. Layer the cubes on a wide plate, sprinkle 1/2 tsp of salt and let sit in sun for 1-2 days till the skins starts to dry on edges and turning pale green. At the end of the day, remove and discard any liquid that has collected.

Using your coffee grinder, coarsely pulse the saunf, methi,kalonji and mustard seeds. In a small bowl mix these with turmeric, chili and hing, mix well.

Place the mango pieces in a wide glass dish (I use my pyrex) and add the spices mixed before. Sprinkle the salt. With a clean and dry spoon or fingers, mix well such that spices and salt loosely stick to mango pieces. Add 150 ml of mustard oil and mix it well. 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, 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 the mango would be brownish and the strong, bitter taste will go away. Store at room temperature for up to 10-12 months. Always use a clean spoon to serve the pickle. 

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.

Chicken in Hot Garlic Sauce (IndoChinese)

I start craving that chicken in hot garlic sauce severely,one with bits of garlic and crispy morsels coated in a deep flavored, sticky and hot reddish sauce. With no recipe to follow, it is just left to receding memories to build one.

Ingredients (Serves 2-3)1 lb boneless chicken thighs,skinless1 tbsp all-purpose flour1 garlic pod, minced1/2 tbsp dark soya sauce ((I use Chingâ€s brand)pinch of  turmeric powder1/2 tsp salt1/2 tsp black pepperOil for skillet frying (I used sunflower)Use tofu, paneer and assorted vegetables for a vegetarian version of this recipeFor the Sauce8 garlic pods5-6 whole red Kashmiri chillies (adjust to tolerance, de seed if you like )1 tsp roasted white sesame seeds1-2 Thai bird chili, whole2 tsp dark soya sauce (I use Chingâ€s brand)3 tbsp chilli tomato sauce (I use Maggi Hot & sweet)2.5 tsp honey (or brown sugar)1 tsp coriander powder1/4 turmeric powder3/4 tsp red pepper flakes (adjust to tolerance)1/2 tsp fresh ginger, minced1 tsp pure sesame oil (optional but recommended)2 tsp corn starch2/3 cup chicken/vegetable stock or water3-4 tbsp oil (I used sunflower, use any neutral oil)4 scallion stalks, white & green cut separately1/2 cup thin sliced red onionSalt to taste1.5 tbsp white vinegar (adjust to taste)1/4 tsp garam masalaFor Garnish – chopped scallions(green parts)MethodPreparationSoak the whole red chillies in warm water for 20 minutes.Cut the cleaned chicken into bite size pieces. Rub it with flour, garlic, chili, soya sauce, turmeric, salt & pepper and let sit for about 25-30 minutes.While the chicken is marinating, using your mortar and pestle or mini processor, crush the garlic, sesame seeds and soaked red chillies to tiny bits.You could use some soaking water if required for blending.In a small bowl, mix up the soya sauce, chili tomato sauce, honey and sesame oil(if using). In another bowl, mix the cornstarch with the stock and set aside.CookingIn a wide skillet (I used my 12″), heat up 2-3 tbsp of oil on high. Layer the marinated chicken pieces on the skillet and let sear on both sides, flipping in between. Make sure that the chicken pieces cook all the way through. This may take about 7-8 minutes or more depending on size of pieces.Once done, transfer the chicken pieces to a plate and reserve the dripping in the skillet itself.Add the 3 tbsp oil into the same skillet and heat it up on medium. Add the crushed garlic- chili paste as well as the whole green chili to it and fry up these for 20-30 second or so till you smell the aroma. Be careful that the garlic does not burn. Next add the chopped scallions (white part) & onions and cook on medium high for 2-3 minutes or till light brown in color. Add the coriander, turmeric,ginger and soya sauce mix made earlier, let cook for 3-4 minutes till everything starts looking glossy or till you see bubbles on the sides.Next, add the cornstarch mix to the skillet. Reduce the heat to low and let everything simmer for another 2-3 minutes till the sauce thickens slightly.Next, taste & adjust the salt in the sauce. Sprinkle the garam masala & vinegar to the skillet and stir everything well. Add the chicken & toss so that the pieces are evenly coated.Garnish with chopped green scallions & serve immediately.