Pudina (Fresh Mint) Paratha

Growing up, parathas, plain, stuffed or spiced with all sorts of herbs and spices were one of the most regular things that mom made for us. I do the same now, parathas are a huge staple in our house, made probably more than any indian other flatbread. The kids love them with curries, in wraps and as a quick snack on its own.

These pudina paratha are flaky, fragrant & layered and pair well with just about anything. Pudina translates to “mint” and paratha is unleavened flatbread very popular in northern parts of India. With creamy mughlai curries they are just amazing, the hints of cooling mint flavor of these parathas complement the rich sauce very well.

Whenever I have a bunch of fresh mint to finish, I usually make a dough and make them layered laccha paratha style. Its so good on its own as well and gets better next day. I know many people like freshly made rotis or parathas but we love them anyhow, fresh or a day old. You can shape them circular or make triangle parathas as well if you dont want to make layered or are in a hurry.

I like a combination of fresh mint with cumin, ginger, fennel and a little chaat masala. The ginger is so good in here with chaat masala. Sometimes I add dried mint, sometimes I dont, I find dried mint a bit chalky and prefer using fresh mint as much as I can. The recipe is very straightforward and really its all about making a flavored dough, resting it and turning it into parathas. Read it below.

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Pudina(fresh Mint) paratha

Whole wheat flour parathas pacjed with flavor of fresh mint and spices. Pair well with curries of any kind. Or use as a wrap.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 6 parathas

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup heaped (20 gms) tightly packet fresh mint leaves , finely chopped, use just the leaves, save stems for something else.
  • 2 cup whole wheat flour (atta)
  • 2 tbsp besan (chickpea flour)
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp coarsely crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp very finely chopped ginger
  • 1 tsp chaat masala
  • 1/2 tsp dried mint
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 2/3 cup water or as needed
  • 3-4 tbsp oil or ghee (for rolling the laccha paratha)
  • dry flour needed while rolling
  • oil for cooking

Instructions

  • In a mixing bowl, add the ingredients – flour, besan, mint(fresh & dried), spices, 2 tbsp oil and salt. Using your fingers mix everything well.
  • Now start adding water in parts. Initially you can add ½ cup water. Thereafter, the amount of water required depends upon the absorption quality of the flour.
  • Mix and begin to knead the dough. Add water as needed and knead for 3-5 minutes to make a smooth and firm dough. It should not be very loose or sticky. I used about 2/3 cup water.
  • Cover the dough and let rest for 30 minutes.
  • Divide the rested dough into equal portions and using your palms make them into medium sized balls. You can make them larger if you want thicker parathas.
  • Place the dough ball on a rolling surface and sprinkle some dry flour on both sides.
  • Roll the dough into a large thin circle of about 10 inch diameter. Dont worry about the shape right now, it should be thin.
  • Brush oil on the top surface(you can sprinkle a little more chaat massala if you wish) and begin to fold from edges like a hand fan, making thin pleates on top of each other.
  • Once there is a thick pleated long roll of the dough, fold it inwards like a spiral into a circle dough ball. Press down lightly, sprinkle dry flour.
  • Meanwhile, set a tawa to heat up on medium high stove. Roll the dough ball to a paratha of 6 inches. These will be slightly thick.
  • Place the paratha on the hot tawa. Keep the flame to medium high. Don't cook on low flame.
  • When you see paratha puffing on the top, flip it. Liberally spread oil on the cooked side.
    Flip and repeat for the second side. After you apply oil. toast nicely on both sides. You can make them crispy or keep them soft.
  • Crush a little before serving, that way the layers separate a bit but this step is optional.
  • Serve them. These keep for 1-2 days well in the fridge as well. Just warm them slightly on a suoer hot tawa before serving.

Caramel Custards

These baked, thick & creamy, easy custards are super quick to make with a few basic ingredients from your pantry. This recipe gives a velvety pudding which has a toffee like sweetness and smokiness from the caramel. It is almost like a flan but instead of having a caramel base, the custards are mixed with caramel sauce and baked off. They are immensely smooth to dive into & with some fresh fruit, one of the best desserts there can be.

My husband is a huge fan of ice-cream and custards and I make these often. Even the kids love it for there is caramel in there. A little bit of sea salt cuts the caramel perfectly. These are incredibly rich and creamiest – a small portion is enough to satisfy.

What is a Caramel Custard? A caramel custard is a creamy custard made with egg yolks, cream and milk. It is mixed with scratch made caramel, flavored with vanilla(you can add cardamom or saffron instead for a different flavor profile) and the baked at a low temperature in a water bath. Doing so leads to gentle cooking of the custard and makes sure that the eggs aren’t curdled and the texture of the custard is smooth. I really love the golden color of these custards.

These custards keep well for 2-3 days in the fridge. Make sure you are using good quality ingredients, because when a recipe calls for very few, the best ingredients make it delicious.

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Caramel Custard

A rich and smooth caramel flavored custard made with simple pantry ingredients like eggs, milk and sugar.
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, French, Mexican
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings 4

Equipment

  • Mixing bowls, sauce pan,whisk, baking tray

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk (or 2%, dont use fat free)
  • 6 egg yolks,(from large size eggs)
  • 1/2 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp sugar (substitute with brown sugar for extra smokiness)
  • Pinch sea salt

Instructions

  • To a heavy(important) bottom sauce pot, add the sugar and pour the water slowly so as not to scatter sugar on sides of the pot.
  • Place the pot on a meduim stove and let the sugar melt. Dont stir. However when you see that the sugar is starting to melt, you can gently swirl the pot.
  • Once the sugar starts to melt, keep a watch since it can quickly burn. Can take about 6-8 minutes for the sugar to melt.
  • When the sugar is completely melted, it should be a nice amber color (and not too dark), remove the pot from the stove and continously whisking, add the heavy cream.
  • Return the pot to the stove and cook whisking in between for another 3-4 minutes. Afterwards, switch off the stove, take off the sauce pot and set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 300F. Place 4 ramekins in a baking tray(deep enough to fill water)
  • In a large bowl, add the egg yolks and sugar and whisk for 3-4 minutes until pale and the sugar has dissolved.
  • Add the milk and vanilla next and whisk again. By now, the caramel should have cooled down. Pour it over the egg mixture & milk mixture. Mix everything to combine.
  • Strain the custard base using a soup sieve into a jug.
  • Pour into the ramekins. Fill up the baking tray with hot water untill 1/3 red level of the ramekins.
  • Bake for 55 to 60 minutes until set and the centres are firm.
  • Take out of the water bath once cooked, cool to room temperature. Cover the ramekins with cling film or foil and chill for atleast 6 hours before serving.
  • Serve with a few sea salt flakes(optional) and fresh fruit.

Saffron-Pineapple Halwa (Semolina Pineapple Pudding)

For Vasant Panchami (spring festival) yesterday, I made this saffron pineapple halwa. Describable as velvety, rich and melt in the mouth, this halwa is quite different from the regular sooji(semolina) halwa. The semolina is very lightly roasted in ghee,it isn’t very sweet and has a lovely flavor of fresh pineapple in every bite.

To enhance the color and flavor, I used ground saffron which gave this halwa an exciting exotic flair and its golden color. Halwa in north indian homes is considered the quickest dessert ever. My grandmother made halwa almost everyday to offer as prashad. Usually made with semolina, chickpea flour or with whole wheat flour, a bowl of warm halwa is deemed auspicious enough to offer to deity, as a means of celebration or a perfect way to satisfying sweet cravings.

This pineapple halwa recipe is one of my most loved. Its not as simple as folding some pineapple bits at the end when halwa finishes cooking. I infuse the intense pineapple flavor by flavoring the sugar syrup by cooking fruit in it first. Then, while the semolina cooks in the syrup, I add pineapple and infuse it further. As the semolina slowly absorbs the syrup, the pineapple chunks get a bit softer and release their juices.

A couple things to be kept in mind when making Pineapple Halwa.

  1. Try and use fine semolina in this recipe. It makes a huge difference in the texture and consistency.
  2. Avoid using canned pineapple. Go for firm (not overripe) pineapple. If the pineapple is too ripe, it will fall apart when you cook it. It is best to use little tangy, not overly sweet fresh pineapple.
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Pineapple Halwa

A rich and velvelty semolina pudding made with fresh pineapple and flavored with saffron.
Course Dessert
Cuisine Indian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings 4 servings

Equipment

  • Cooking Pot, Kadhai/Wide Pan

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1.25 cup water
  • 1 cup fresh pineapple chunks (small squares)
  • 10 saffron strands
  • 1 tbsp warm milk
  • 1/3 cup melted ghee, divided
  • 1/2 cup fine semolina
  • 2 tbsp raw whole cashews
  • 2 tbsp raw pistachios plus more for garnish

Instructions

  • Add the sugar and water to a medium pot and set on the stove to boil.There is no need to stir. Just when all the sugar has melted. no need to cook it further, add the pineapple chunks to hot syrup and switch off the stove. Let sit for 10-12 minutes
  • In the meantime, add the saffron strands to a mortar, add a pinch of sugar and grind to a fine powder. Add warm milk and mix. Let stand to infuse.
  • Set a heavy kadhai/wide pan on low medium stove, add 1 tbsp of ghee and saute the nuts for a minutes stirring continously. Brown the nuts a little taking care that they dont burn. Take out in a bowl.
  • Add another tablespoon of ghee to the kadhai and add the semolina. On low medium stove, toast the semolina in ghee for 3-5 minutes until the grains appear to be swelled but do not change color. Keep stirring continously using a cooking spoon and dont let the color of semolina change.
  • Once toasted, reduce the flame to low. Grab a spatula in one hand and add the sugar syrup along with pinapple to the semolina with other. There will be a bit of splutter so be careful. Gently but quicky start mixing the semolina with the syrup using the spatula. It will swell and the halwa will start to thicken in no time. This happens very quickly and spatula is the right tool to stir with. Dont let any lump form and keep stirring continously. The halwa might feel a bit sticky but its okay.
  • Once all the syrup is absorbed, add the remaining 1/4 cup ghee to the kadhai and keep mixing and stirring to combine well. Slowly ghee will be absorbed (about 2-3 minutes) in the halwa and you will see its no more sticky rather shiny and grainy.
  • Add the browned nuts and saffron mix to the halwa and again mix well. Cook for about 2 minutes and then switch off the stove. It will thicken a bit as it sits.
  • Serve garnished with more nuts and few saffron threads. Best served warm.

Lamb & Potato Stew

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!

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Lamb & Potato Stew

Slow cooked bone in lamb and potato stew with fresh pounded spices and yogurt.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours

Equipment

  • Dutch Oven

Ingredients

For the Stew

  • 1 lb stewing lamb
  • 4 tbsp mustard oil , substitute with cooking oil that you like to use
  • 1 whole black cardamom
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 inch cinnamon stick
  • Pinch sugar
  • 1 cup onions thinly sliced
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 2 inch fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp hot red chilli powder adjust to tolerance
  • 1/2 tsp kashmiri chilli powder
  • 2-3 small gold potatoes peeled
  • 1/3 cup plain greek yogurt slightly beaten
  • 1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
  • Salt to taste

Coarsely pound together

  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 twig mace
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 5 cloves

Instructions

  • 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.
  • Let the stew rest for 2 hours before serving.

Easy Cashew & Raisins Icecream (Kaju Kishmish)

Hi Friends! How have you been?

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

Recipe

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.

Bhindi Aloo (Spiced Okra & Potatoes)

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.

Serve these as a side with daal (lentils ) and rice or with skillet fried flatbreads and chutney. It is good on side as well as on its own.

Zarda – Sweet Saffron Rice

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
  • 2 cloves
  • 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

Notes

  1. Use good quality spices in this recipe.
  2. Different varieties of saffron have different sharpness and strength. Adjust the quantity depending on the brand you are using.
  3. 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.

Method

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.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Lauki-Chana Daal (Bengal Gram Lentils With Summer Squash)

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 of ghee & 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.

Ingredients (Serves 3-4)

Cooking the Lentils

  • 3/4 cup chana daal (bengal gram lentils)
  • 1 tablespoon ghee (or use oil for vegan version)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large tomato, finely chopped (yield about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped (optional, adjust quantity to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon hing powder (asafoetida)
  • 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)

Notes

  • 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.

Method

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.

Scatter with chopped cilantro and serve warm.

Stay Spicy.

Green Mango Granita

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 & sharbat in 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.

Printable Recipe

Ingredients (Serves 4-5)

  • 1 lb green mangoes( about 6-7small )
  • Water for boiling the mangoes
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar (or to taste)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 5-6 fresh mint stems and leaves
  • 1 small green chili, seeds and veins removed
  • 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)

Method

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).

Hot & Sour Chicken (Indo Chinese)

If you asked me about what eating out during childhood years meant, I would have nothing vivid to recollect about fine dining and celebratory dinners. Except for may be the street foods which we gorged on every other evening at Arun Chaat Bhandar, a tiny one room eatery which had been around ever since I have known,the restaurant trips were rare. More so because my grandmother and mother had this undying wish to recreate all kinds of food in their kitchen and less because eating out was not as big part of the indian culture during the 1980s as it is now-a-days. You can gauge that from the fact that whenever I tell my mother about anything non indian food that my daughter likes her play school, she asks me to look up the recipe on internet and cook it for her. ‘Ghar par hi bana do, accha rahega“, cook at home, it will be far better in taste, she tells me. Well, we will keep it for another day as to how I go about her suggestions (wink!) but coming back to my chidlhood days, other than the chaat corner, the other place that me and my siblings looked forward to was indo chinese food at ‘Sabus‘, a neon red-painted food van permanently situated at the front of the back wall of an old housing complex, itched with graffiti of an indian comic character, Sabu, a monstrous alien from planet Jupiter, huge & strong, bald and muscular,always wearing gumboots. It would be slightly untrue to state that we loved eating at that van just because of the noodles, there was more fun in the form of free stickers, liquid filled transparent chopsticks and cheap stamps if you placed a large order. Unlike the food trucks in the States, that red van without tyres was a lot dilapidated, with a much tamed down kitchen as far as cooking facilities & techniques available, but the food from there made sure that the street infront always smelled of soy & spices. You know that burnt, fermented savory ‘stink’?, when the soy bubbles & splutters when as soon as it hits the hot as volcano wok, that! As I write this, I can still remember the taste of food there from some 20 years ago, of the greasy chowmein and the scarlet colored chilli chicken. “It’s all in the wok”, the little Nepalese guy with golden hair and wrinkly forehead replied whenever questioned about his recipes or where he got his condiments.

My mom has been making this hot and sour chicken for so many years, the only difference being that she serves it with a runny sauce than what we ate at Sabus. I follow her recipe mostly except that I do not deep fry the chicken, rather lightly sear it before proceeding to make the sauce.This recipe is more of for an appetizer or starter course than the mains, however the husband insists on combining it some steamed jasmine rice each time. Any which way, the way that garlic & hot chili laced sauce with hints of tomato, soy and fresh cracked black pepper combines with vinegar soaked succulent morsels of chicken is just too delicious. Try it!

A tangy fusion dish of vinegar soaked chicken stirred with garlic – chili paste, soy and spices. 

  • 1 lb boneless chicken thighs,skinless
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 tbsp dark soya sauce ((I use Ching’s brand)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, fresh cracked
  • 1.5 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2-3 tablespoon of oil (for skillet frying)

Notes:

  1. Use tofu, paneer and assorted vegetables for a vegetarian version of this recipe.
  2. If you would like to deep fry the chicken before adding to the sauce, mix 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour and 1 tablespoon corn starch when you marinate.

For the Sauce

  • 6 fresh garlic pods
  • 2 whole fresh Fresno chillies (or any hot chili pepper, adjust to tolerance, de seed if you like )
  • 2 teaspoon dark soya sauce (I use Ching’s brand)
  • 2 tablespoon chilli tomato sauce (I use Maggi Hot & sweet, substitute with Sriracha & 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or use 1.5 – 2 tablespoons Sambal oelek )
  • 1.5 tsp honey (or brown sugar, adjust to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon pure, untoasted sesame oil (optional but recommended)
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • 1/2 cup chicken/vegetable stock or water
  • 3-4 tbsp oil (I used sunflower, use any neutral oil)
  • 5 scallion stalks, white & green cut separately
  • 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp red pepper flakes (adjust to tolerance)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1.5 – 2 tbsp white vinegar (adjust to taste, or use a few dashes of balsamic vinegar)
  • For Garnish – chopped scallions(green parts)

Method

Preparation

Clean the chicken, pat it dry. Cut the cleaned chicken into bite size pieces. Rub it with garlic, chili, soy sauce, salt & pepper, vinegar and let sit for about 25-30 minutes.

While the chicken is marinating, using your mortar and pestle or mini processor, crush the garlic and Fresno chillies to tiny bits.You could use some water if required for blending.

In a small bowl, mix up the soy sauce, chili tomato sauce, honey and sesame oil(if using). In another bowl, mix the cornstarch with the stock and set aside.

Cooking

In a wide skillet (I used my 12″), heat up 2-3 tbsp of oil on high. Pick up the marinated chicken pieces, shake to release vinegar and layer on the skillet and let sear on both sides, flipping in between. Make sure that the chicken pieces cook all the way through. This may take about 7-8 minutes or more depending on the size of pieces.

Once done, transfer the chicken pieces to a plate and reserve the drippings in the skillet itself.

Add the 3 tbsp oil into the same skillet and heat it up on medium. Add the crushed garlic chili paste  and fry up these for 20-30 second or so till you smell the aroma. Be careful that the garlic does not burn (else it will be bitter). Next add the chopped onions and scallions (white parts) and cook on medium high for 3-4 minutes or till light brown in color. Add the tomatoes next and let cook till they begin to soften. Next, add the ginger along with the soy sauce mix made earlier, let cook for 3-4 minutes till everything starts looking glossy or till you see bubbles on the sides. Next, add the cornstarch mix to the skillet. Reduce the heat to low and let everything simmer for another 2-3 minutes till the sauce thickens slightly.

Next, taste & adjust the salt in the sauce. Sprinkle the red chili flakes & vinegar to the skillet and stir everything well. Add the chicken & toss so that the pieces are evenly coated.

Garnish with chopped green scallions & serve immediately.