Dec 26, 2010

Holiday spirit-desserts that has a 'spice' to it. Tomato chutney

All good things must come to an end and so must this  Bengali holiday meal :) series.
But in Bengal...we make the end not just sweet...but spicy too. Aha! a dessert that has a bite to it. Makes the parting rather naughty and sweet :)

Ever wonder if you can make a chutney spicy?

The above is just that. Tomato chutney with some cayenne and allspice. My grandmother used to make this and told guests that once they had a dollop of this chutney, their age  would gets stuck right there. That's the spicy, a bit sticky and sweet dessert from the heart of Bengali cuisine
 your chance to stay forever whatever ...

Spicy tomato chutney

3 big tomatoes cut in chunks
1/3rd cup of sugar.
1/2 tsp pf finely sliced ginger
1/2 tsp of whole all spice
A big pinch of cayenne pepper
A bit of salt for seasoning
2 tbsf oil
1 cup of water.
 A handful of raisins
A few dates slices up, seed removed. Optional

In a pot, heat the oil and pop the all spice and ginger. Saute for a few secs and add the tomato pieces. add the sugar, raisins and dates. saute till the tomatoes soften and sugar dissolves. 3-4 mins. Add the cayenne pepper and water and bring to a boil. Season with salt. Lower heat and simmer till you get a consistency that is a little gooey and a bit sticky :).  Usually about 10 mins. Add the dates.

Serve at room temperature. Never cold. Never ever hot. Just warm enough to keep the memories from fading and spice to take the sting away from farewell :)

Happy new year!

Dec 25, 2010

Merry christmas!! with prawn mlaikari-- third course!

Merry Christams!!

And with that I bring to you the penultimate course in the Bengali holiday meal :) series

Prawn 'malaikari'. A personal favorite right from my grandmom's kitchen. A delicate entree of prawns stewed in a subtle blend of cardamom-bayleaf-clove-cinnamon spiced coconut milk. An eternal delicacy in any Bengali kitchen. To be served with some sort of a sweet raisin pilaf


1/2 lb of prawns. De veined and shell removed 
1 tbsf of olive oil
Whole garam masala-- 2 cloves, 2 cardamom, 1/3rd stick of cinnamon
1 bayleaf
2 dried red chilli
1/2 tsp of grated ginger
2 tsp of sugar
1/2 cup of yogurt or 1/2 cup of cubed tomatoes.
1/2 cup of coconut milk. Alternatively, you can use a mixture of 1/2 cup of coconut flakes mixed with 1/3rd cup of milk.  
1/2 cup of hot water
Salt to season
A pinch of store bought garam masala powder for garnish
Do it ..will ya ?
In a pot heat oil and pop the whole garam masala, bayleaf and dried red chilli. saute for sometime till the spices turn a deeper shade. About 30 secs. Lower heat and add grated ginger, yoghurt/tomato and sugar (the lower heat is prevents burning of the spices). Saute for a couple of minutes and then add the prawns. Add half a cup of water. Bring to a boil. Add the coconut milk mixture/coconut milk and simmer for 5-7 mins. Season with salt. It should taste sweet :) Garnish with a pinch of garam masala.

Serve with a cherry or raisin pilaf. Now that is fancy smancy in under 10 mins. You guessed?

Merry christmas!

Dec 24, 2010

Holiday spirit---second course with Fish 'chops' (or Croquettes) and sweet lentil soup!

Continuing with celebrating the holiday spirit with Bengali holiday meal :)

The second course took some time to arrive. The affair is simple--- only deceptively so. But I guess you were having your fill of the first course to notice the little delay :)

A typical Bengali dinner would have to feature a form of lentil soup. The varieties are endless, each giving the other a fair share of competition. One very common way of making yellow lentils in Bengal is with sweet vegetables and spices a wink of sugar. Although common in bengali food, this way of sweetening lentil soup is largely unknown in the rest of India In fact here is a bit of trivia. Bengali cuisine is about using sweet like no other Indian cuisine does. Lentil is one of the many the ingredients to get a sweet treatment. Another wild card is fish. Yes you heard right. Ground fish with sweet spices, raisins and ginger, wrapped in bread crumbs and pan fried. The combo is lethal. And sort of makes you head towards dessert, even though its still a few courses away. 

Sweet and Savory lentil soup with 'Fish chops'-- much like croquettes

Enjoy :)

Fish chops adapted from Bong mom's cookbook

Ingredients: (for 12 big ones)
Fish fillet- I suggest 1/2 lb of Tilapia or catfish. 
2 big potatoes. Peeled.
1 cup of chopped onion
2 tsp of minced garlic
1 tsp of minced ginger
1 tbsf lime juice
1 tsp of Garam Masala
1/2 tsp of Paprika (or Red Chili Powder if you want it hot)
2 tsp of Coriander powder
salt to taste
A big  handful of  raisins: Soaked and plumped in hot water for 15 mins.
1 tsp of  sugar
 Salt and pepper for seasoning
oil: 2 for frying onion etc and 3 tbsf for a batch of four. So you are looking at 11-12 tbsf of oil.
Cook the fillet of fish in the microwave for 5-6 minutes. I would suggest do it in intervals of 3 minutes each.

  • Cook one potato whole in the microwave. Prick the potato with a fork mercilessly and then wrap in a plastic cling wrap. about 4-5 minutes per potato.

  • In a big mixing bowl put the cooked fish, breaking and crumbling it. Add 1 tsp of lime juice.
  • Once the potato has cooled, peel and mash it. With your hand mix the fish and potatoes to make a smooth mix
  • Heat about 2 tsp of oil in a frying pan. Add 1 clove of garlic minced. When fragrant, fry about 1 cup of onion till it is soft and browns on the edges. Add 1 tsp of Garlic paste, 1 tsp of Ginger paste, 4 green chili chopped fine and fry for couple more minutes.

  • Add the above to the fish + potato mix
  • Next add the following Garam Masala, Paprika (or Red Chili Powder), Coriander, raisins sugar and salt. Really mix well in the frying pan. Take it off the stove and let it cool 
  • Fashion your chop either like flat discs or make oblong shapes

  • Now prepare for frying and set up the following
  • 1.Egg Wash (break 1 egg and add 2-3 tbsf of water. Mix well.
  • 2.A flat platter with  Bread Crumbs seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 3.Hot Oil (3 tbsf for a batch of 4) for shallow frying 

  • Dip the chop/croquette in egg wash --> roll in bread crumbs --> shallow fry in batches of 4-6 till golden brown on both sides

Excellent with a lentil soup especially a sweet one :)

Happy holidays!!

Dec 20, 2010

Holiday spirit---first course with shukto :)

Continuing with the holiday spirit theme 

Its all about a way to celebrate holidays with gourmet Bengali holiday food
The first course-- bitter vegetable stew called 'shukto'

Bengali food is all about sedate flavors. It teases the palate very slowly and seductively. Meaning that the build up  to the main couses is a very important part of the tango. And it all starts with food that cleanses the taste bud. Bitter taste has been known to be palate cleanser.  Celery used to be served-- and i think it still is served in many Italian dinner tables in between courses to cleanse the palate and taste bud. But in Bengal, when we say bitter..we mean bitter. Really. Much like 99% cacao chocolate. There is this vegetable called ucche that imparts this super bitter tatste. Much like very old and bitter Kale. Here is how it looks. 

And if that thought is scaring you off from starters,  let me tell you that its is paired with savory lentil scones and tons of root and leaf vegetables. Such that the bitter taste cleanses the palate but all you feel is a fresh savory and sweet taste in your mouth. Quite incredible and  I don't think I have seen the likes of this dish in any part of the world. 

There is a fun folklore associated to it too and me thinks its a good time tow share. After all what is food without a tale to tell :)  Back in the days when a girl came to meet the future (often very intimidating) mother-in law, the one quiz she could expect was ' what are the spices you put in shukto? And if the petrified girl could answer that question, that was a winner all the way :) 

Apparently, and I can vouch for that as well, he dish has spcices which you can't identify at all...the combination gives off a flavor very different from the spices themselves. And I think, it has to do with the presence of tiny amount of  the super bitter vegetable. 

Much later..when I started making this vegetable stew (that's really what it is) I could not understand the great mystery surrounding shukto. And why would someone really think highly of a person who could make it...To me its as easy as it gets and a sure way to start a meal and wow the guest!

But maybe its just me? :) So here is how you start your gourmet Bengali food marathon--- with a touch of bitter

 Any number of hearty veggies-- 
1 medium eggplant- chopped up
1 potato-  coarsely sliced up
1 Plantain- peeled and coarsely chopped
A handful of green beans- coarsely chopped
1 carrot- coarsely chopped
1 stalk of kale. Take the leaves off the stalk and run your knife through it. This is for the bitter taste.

1.5 tbsf mustard powder
1 tsp of ginger
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp of whole cumin
1 tsp of whole mustard
4 tbsf regular oil
2 cups of tepid water or veg stock at room temperature.
1/2 cup of milk
3/4th  cup pf unsweetened coconut
Salt and 1/2 tsp of garam masala powder (optional) to season

Take a big pot and start!!

Roast all the veggies (except kale) with 3 tbsf oil at 420F for 10 min. Take a deep and big skillet. You will need one which will hold all the veggies.  Heat  1 tbsf oil in it and pop the whole cumin and the whole mustard. Once it releases aroma (~ 5-10 secs), drop all the roasted veggies. Lower heat and saute and cover.  Keep an eye out on the  veggies and stir them to prevent sticking to the bottom.  Do this for ~ 5 minutes. Add the mustard powder, ginger and sugar and water/ stock. and milk.Give things one big stir and let cook through on low heat for ~ 10- 15 minutes. When things look cooked, add  the kale and the coconut. The kale will give a slightly bitter taste to the veggies and that is what will make it excellent as a starter dish. Season with salt. Wait a beat. Take it off the fire and sprinkle the garam masala powder (optional)
Serve it over warm rice or even good to be had by itself, in place of a soup. After all there is nothing to beat a warm cup of vegetable stew there?

Happy eating and healthy living!

Dec 10, 2010

Holiday spirit from across the ocean, of time and space :)

We are here..we are finally here. In the final and the best phase of food. The holiday season food marathon. I guess they mean it when they say, the best for the last.

And talking of marathons I love nothing more than a traditional Bengali food marathon. And somehow I feel its one of those marathons from which you can emerge feeling full and satiated..but not over weight :) But I may be biased. I said may :) :) :)

I love the holiday season. And even for a party shy person like me, I always manage to go to all the holiday parties I can. Its such a lovely feeling, even though at most of these parties, I don't even know everybody or sometimes even anybody! But the sight of happy faces lit even more by the warm candle lights, the aroma of good food, the sound of laughter and clinking wine glasses--reminds me so much of the festive season back home-- in west Bengal-- the part of India where I grew up. The rush to go home a couple of days before the real holiday, making and having good food with friends and is all so similar. Human spirit I guess is what science may call it. To me however, it is the joy that is so universal. And hence my love for holiday parties and seasons. 

Its home away from home  

It matters not what the specific ceremony is. Its the spirit and joy and feeling of sharing that I adore.

So this holiday season I am gonna do a bit of sharing of the festive spirit as it goes on in West Bengal. Around the beginning of fall. Also goes by the name Durga puja. But lets not talk of things that make similar occasions sound alien. Whatever the name is all about food, family, happiness and festivities. And as a foodie to another foodie, my interest lies in that F word we all love. :) Yes the food. In that part of India where I grew up, festivities come with food that is gorgeous, gourmet and yet flavorful and surprisingly, undecadant. And here is what a typical bengali festive dinner may look like.

And here is the plan...the next five posts leading up to christmas is gonna be one recipe from this marathon dinner. A course in every post. And by the time the bells chime and the snowman is ready and its christmas morning, I will have shared with you a very festive dinner, very far from here--oceans and rivers and mountains across- but reflecting feeling and emotions that are oh so similar :)

I hope to see you all the table..its gonna be fun I tell ya :)

Happy eating and healthy living..yes even if its the holiday season!!

Dec 2, 2010

Okra Chicken Casserole-- A clssic from the Ottoman Empire

'The Sun never sets in the British empire'
Or so went the adage....
When I was little my grandmother told me this. She came from a time when The Bristish were in their withdrawal stages from south east Asia  and there fascinating stories she told me about that time. Amazing, I still remember. Anyways that's food for another post :)
I guess the reason I brought it up was more to do with copyright violation: I was going to write 'Wonder never ceases in the Ottoman fooddom'-- only to realize that this cheeky one liner is a copy from more than a generation behind. But then if you re going to write about Turkish casseroles, its only imperative that you would need to travel back in time.Peel off the layers of modernity and sort of sit back to enjoy food cooked slowly and to be savored slowly as well...

A classic Ottoman casserole-- of Okars (of all things) and chicken. Adapted from 'Classic Turkish cooking' by Ghile Bassan

2 lb of chicken. Bone in and some skin is good.
1/2 lb of okra. Or ladies finger if you will :)
2 tbsf vinegar
1 large onion. chopped
2 medium tomatoes. Chopped
4 cloves of garlic. Crushed
half a lemon.
1 tsp of coriander powder.Make a paste with 1 tsp of warm water. Prevents burning of the spice when put in contact with heat.
1/2 tsf of cayenne pepper
1 tsp of paprika. You can use smoked sweet
The mixture of cayenne pepper and paprika is called 'kirmizi biber'. A spice used all the time in Turkish cuisine
1 tsp of dried oregano
3 tbsf of olive oil
1 cup pf warm water. Or you can use chicken stock at room temperature.
salt and pepper for seasoning.

Now I am using steps for this one

  • Cut stalk of the okras. Wash and sprinkle vinegar and 1 tbsf of salt. Mix well. Leave for an hour. Rinse thoroughly to get rid off the vinegar and pat dry. Preserve for use. This is a good method for taking off the sliminess from the okra.
  • Heat oil in a pot. Brown chicken all over. About 6-7 minutes. Remove from heat and preserve
  • Add coriander paste and onion to the oil and fry for 3-4 minutes
  • Add the paprika, cayenne pepper and tsp of warm water. Fry for a minute
  • Add the oregano  followed by the tomato. Fry for another minute.
  • Add water and bring the paste to a boil
  • Add the chicken pieces. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.
  • Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes.
  • Meanwhile preheat oven to 410F.
  • Transfer the chicken and sauce to an oven friendly casserole.
  • Lay the okras on top and sprinkle the juice of half a lemon on top. Season again, carefully (you have already seasoned your chicken) with salt and pepper
  • Bake for 30 minutes. The okras should be crunchy and green. But cooked through
A perfect mixture of the unmixables-- and yet a classic. From the Ottoman empires no less

    Nov 26, 2010

    Relax with some Mahi Mahi baked with Tomato-spinach and a hint of anise :)

     The smell of turkey is still heavy in the air. And the refrigerator is full of leftovers. And yet the tummy is craving light and simple. Here is a remedy for that. Fish baked with tomato and herbs...with a hint of fennel/anise. Fresh and new. And your pallatte is cleared. I tell ya...this one is a goodie. For those days after a holiday meal :)


    1/2 lb of fish fillet. You can use Mahi Mahi, or any hearty fish.
    1 tbsf of anise.
    3 tomatoes. Coarsely cubed.
    1/3 cup of dry white vine
    salt and pepper for seasoning

    Start by preheating your oven to 400F. 10 minutes
    While the oven heats, heat oil in a skillet. Pop the anise. 1 minute. Add the tomatoes.Cook for 3-4 minutes. Till the tomatoes resemble a sauce like thing. Add the wine. Let the wine cook off for 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

    Place the fish in an oven friendly tray. Make some criss cross on both surfaces of the fish. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce all over and around the fish. Place the tray in the oven for 20 minutes.
    Drizzle with lemon juice and serve with spinach sauteed with garlic.

    Feel fresh everytime :)


    Nov 22, 2010

    Squash curry with garam masala

    A round of thanks is due. And here is a way of making it moist and yummy.

    Tut tut..not the turkey. Not the turkey. Not the gravy. None of that.

    Its a wild card entry this year. Its Squash or Pumpkin. As the harvesting season ends and the last of the seasons squashes hit the market stands, here is a good way of making use of the remnants of fall. After all we ain't gonna get it till almost a year :) Better make it spicy and sweet but not too bland :)

    Squash cooked with onions on low heat and spiced with Garam Masala and chille pepper. The onion is made moist and sugary and soft and caramelized in olive oil for about half an hour and the squash is added after that. All you do is chop and drop.

    Here is bidding adieu to fall

    Garam masala squash curry

    2 squash. Remove the seeds. You can use a medium pumpkin too. But I like squash. you can use two medium eggplants. Skinned. Chop the veggie into bite size cubes.
    2 medium onions
    1.5 tsp of garam masala
    3-4 large whole red chillies. YOu can also use 1/2 tsp of red chili flakes
    1/2 tsp of sugar ( if you are using eggplants)
    2 tbsf olive oil
    salt and pepper for seasoning

    Take your time

    In a non stick skillet, put the onions and the oil. Cover and place on the lowest heat setting of your stove. Let it sit for 20-30 minutes. The onion will be brown, and caramelized and moist and delish.
    Next put the veggies, garam masala and red chili in that pot. Mix together. Cover and let it do its own thing. Another 30 mins. Check every 10 minutes or so to give the thing a stir. Prevents scorching
    When done, season with salt and pepper.

    You got a deal on your hands for no effort at all :)

    Happy eating and healthy living!

    Nov 19, 2010

    Corsican stew- hearty food for nippy days

    Cambridge, Mass always feels good. Even in the thick of the winter, with river frozen all over, it still feels good.  Why! the pubs are open and the chowder tastes great. But there is something about fall in Cambridge that makes me go weak in the knees. 

    Its only been a couple of days and I gotta tell you its been pretty warm compared to business-as usual. And as the gusty winds blow off the fallen leaves and strip the remnants of  fall from the trees, there is a smell in the air that cries out...holidays and bells and tinkers and candies and all things good. Life is not great. But sometimes it whiffs a little aroma and you feel, even for a tiny little moment , that life sure is great. And those moments are what makes life beautiful :)

    A bit of a circular logic there. But feelings aren't mathematical. They come in all shapes and sizes and yet, it all works just the same way :) Slightly illogical :)

    And on such gusty nippy days, one just can't do without a hearty stew. If the stew is from Corsica then there is a heartiness that accompanies the stew, the goes beyond eating. Its about heartfelt, rustic goodness. A feeling to be shared on a nippy fall day. Fall does not always end have to end a bump. It can float you down ...and I guarantee that with this Mediterranean stew right from the place where sheep are still herded on green mountains bordering the bright blue Mediterranean

    A Corsican chicken stew...

    2 lbs of chicken. With bone and some skin. You can use lamb or goat as well.
    1.5 medium onion. Or two small ones. Or 1 large :)
    2 medium tomatoes. Chopped
    1 large potato. Chopped into bite size peices
    3-4 large cloves of garlic. Crushed
    1 tbsf of flour
    1/2 of ground sage.
    1/2 tsp of dries thyme
    1/2 tsp pf dried rosemary
    1 tsp of dried parsley.

    I used dry herbs as fresh herbs are becoming more expensive, now that cold season has set in. But by all means feel free to use fresh ones. They are always better. Use double the amount.
    2 tsp of olive oil
    1/2 cup of red wine. I used Cabernet Sauvignion. Any bold red will do.
    Salt and pepper for seasoning

    Stew away!

    In a skillet (or oven proof dutch oven) heat the oil. Brown the meat. About 7-8 minutes. Add the onion and fry for another 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, herbs and fry for another minute or so. Add the flour and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, followed by the wine. Season with salt and pepper. Lower heat and stew for about 30 minutes (for chicken) or 2 hours for red meet
    Alternatively you can transfer the stew in a oven proof casserole and bake at 420 for 30-40 minutes for chicken or 1-2 hours for red meat. Should be really tender.

    Warm and cozy. Friendly and rustic. For cold and nippy days...:)

    Happy eating and healthy living!

    Nov 16, 2010

    Chicken Biriyani-- inflight food! Flying just got a little better!

    Airport waiting sure sucks. Inflight food, even worse. A late afternoon flight across the country, absolute nightmare. And even bad? reaching a cold city at the dead of the night. Life does look bad.

    But if you have packed lunch that is called chicken biriyani, then, it ain't so bad...right? :):)

    Well..I am at the airport waiting to board the flight that will hopefully take me into Boston sometime late tonight. And the only thing ..well I should actually say the only two things..that is making this potential trip look less daunting is free wifi and a lunchbox full of good quality homemade chicken Biriyani!.

    You heard right. Biriyani for inflight food. I had made this whole big bowlful for R and now I am carrying a tiny savory part of it. Thanks R for making me carry it!

    And so that you know how it looks like

    This recipe is adapted from Sheba. A fantastic cook. Sheba makes biriyani and several other traditional Indian gourmet food with ease that is almost makes you feel guilty thinking of the toil for those who does it otherwise. You can look up her recipes on Youtube. I can guarantee that traditional food with Sheba becomes simple and healthy too. I have previously reported on my disastrous trip down the Biriyani Lane. But with Sheba, I have taken and retaken this journey. And never faltered. Comes out perfect every time. So, if you fear traditional Indian cooking like I do, a good time is now to check Sheba's recipes out. 

    Besides you can always carry it for your inflight food. An aromatic chicken Biriyani.

    Happy eating and healthy living..even if its on a flight!

    Nov 12, 2010

    'Sorry..I am really late'. Appologies with jar of goat cheese dipped in olive oil, herbs and garlic


    that kind of guilty hello you say after you come to dinner after a stroll that was supposed to last for no more than a few hours, but you got delayed? well...that onetime, when you went for a stroll and returned after an year. And your excuse? A small random something had caught your curiosity on a momemt when you felt uber curious and you went off to hunt that lead? Well of course nothing had come of that little sojourn...just that you are now delayed at the dinner table by an year :) And everybody is really upset :(

    That kind of small guilty hello from me to food dom. I thought I would write tomorrow and the tomorrows went on to become a week. And here is my little gift from that little vacation what was supposed to be a great adventure but turned out no more than a random week of nothings and small things. 
    So here you are...a small jar of goat cheese that I turned extra nice by adding some herbs and garlic...stuff that I picked up on the way :)


    1 4oz pack of goat cheese. Cubed into small bite sized pieces
    1/4 th cup of extra virgin olive oil
    1/2 tsp of Sage
    1/2 tsp of Thyme
    1/2 tsp of Rosemary
    1 large clove of garlic. Grated
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Put all ingredients in a airtight jar. Mix lightly. Close the lid tightly and refrigerate for 3-4 days. Serve with warm bread.

    A  gift that will charm your hosts in case you got delayed :)

    Happy eating and healthy living

    Nov 5, 2010

    The grandmother said 'let there be light' and there was Deepawali. The festival of lights :)

    Lights, camera and Action!

    No..No ..No..I am not talking about any trip to a Hollywood studio. I am talking about my favorite festival of  all times. It is the festival of lights! Well, lights feature in all festivals. What is a festival without light. Right? But a festival about lights?? That is my kind of festival. 

    It is Deepawali. The festival of lights..lights and only lights. And action centered around lights. Firecrackers, indoor lightnings, out door lighting and what not. The skies light up, the roof tops brighten, the patio is flooded and the indoor is warm and glowy. The heart...well it only warms up and glows, with that much warmth going around, it radiates all that heat and light and warmth..making it the best best best festival in the whole wide world.

    And it all started with a grandmother and her little a village far far from here..

    '....And a long  long time ago, in a small village lived a old woman. She lived alone on top of a small hill in a big mansion. The old woman would have been very lonely, if it wasn't for a little girl who came everyday to play with her in the garden. Her grand daughter. The little girls' parents lived somewhere away from the mansion, but she hung around the old place. The old lady and the little girl spent many a morning talking and playing little games but the old lady, much as she tried ,could not get the kid to come inside the mansion. The kid was fond of lights. But the mansion looked dark and gloomy. 

    The old lady understood this. So one day, late autumn when the air was nippy and the Sun was going down and the little kid was about to leave, the old lady gave her some candies and asked her to wait while she made her favorite dinner. The little girl wanted to leave. But the candies and the promise of her favorite dinner was too much for her five year head to wrestle against. So she waited and waited and waited....

    It seemed a long time that she was waiting. She wondered if her grandma was sick. Worried she walked to the door and with all the courage  she could summon, she opened the door. The aroma of dinner wafted out and the girl could not resist walking inside. And as soon as she walked inside, she saw her grandma with a candle. Starting to light little mud lamps on the sills of the large windows. She rushed to her grandma in excitement and together they slowly lit the whole house-- all three floors-- with the little candles. And when they reached the roof top...they lit the sky. And as the warmth in their hearts grew, it radiated so much heat that all the people of the land flocked around the mansion to see how the lights have lit up the sky and the rooftops and the windows and the ceiling and they all cracked up fires in all possible ways....and that's how the festival of lights was celebrated forever and ever.

    But remember it all started with the dinner and candies. And here's the recipe for thae aroma that brought the little girl into that dark mansion in the first place :)

    Chicken Chowmein!!


    1 chicken breast. Cut in small pieces
    A handful of  small shrimp
    Half a onion. Sliced
    1 bell pepper. Sliced.
    1 chiili pepper; Sliced
    3-4 stalks of green onion. Chopped

    1 pack of chowmein.
    4-5 tsbf soy sauce
    2 tbsf oyster sauce
    1 tbsf garlic. Grated
    1 tbsf ginger. Grated
    3 tbsf of oil

    Salt and pepper for seasoning

    Saute and eat!
    Boil the chowmein according to directions with 1 tbsf oil and salt. The oil keeps the strands separated. Drain and preserve.
    In 1 tbsf oil, saute the chicken till done. Season with salt and pepper. About 3-4 mins. Dish up and set aside. Do the same thing with the shrimps.
    Add a tbsf of oil and saute the ginger, chili pepper and garlic. For 1 min. Add the chowmein, with the soy sauce and oyster sauce for about 3 min. Add the veggies, fried chicken and shrimp and mix well together. Another 2 minutes. Add the green onion. Season with salt and pepper.

    You have a dish that weakens even the boldest at heart :)

    Happy Diwali. Don't let the lights go out!

    Nov 1, 2010

    Sweet November! with a breakfast from France :)

    Hello is November and that translates to--- Autumn in my sphere and Spring on those  of you on the other sphere. But whichever sphere you are in, November is the most wonderful month of the year! The ghosts of last year are starting to fade away (now that Halloween is over) and we are all getting ready to welcome the new! feasts, travel, friends, family, dinners and outings are around the corner.

    And the only way I could think of celebrating the beginning of Autumn is by making the very first meal of November combining flavors that are both fresh and comforting. Things that will be with us for the remainder of this year and flavors that will catapult us into the next year. And who better to trust than the French with the task of  combining simple and fresh ingredients into a feast for all five senses, not least of which is the  eye :) 'You eat with your eyes first'-- this must have originated in France :)

    So here is a French breakfast that combines heart with all five senses.

    *Recipe adapted from Trish Dessine*

    This one I hear, is strictly about boiled ot uncooked things layed out to gether. I tried to do a vegetarian version. But you can take it to different levels as you feel is fit for the day. I used mushroom, but you can use some bacon/ham/chicken breast/ fish. Your day. Your wish :)

    1 box of small mushroom: Sauted with 1 tbsf oil for 3-4 mins till browned all over
    2 small potatoes. Skin retained and boiled
    2 hard boiled eggs. halved
    A few black olives. I am sure your green olives are just as fine
    Half a bell pepper. optional
    3 tomatoes. Halved or quartered
    A block of hard cheese of your choice. I like smoked gouda.

    Lay all of the ingredients on the cutting board in parallal rows. Sprinkle some salt and pepper.

    Toast up some sliced bread. I like wheat. And instead of butter, make the following 'Bechamal sauce'

    Bechamal sauce:
    2 tbsf butter
    1 tbsf flour
    1/3 cup of milk
    a few grates of nutmeg
    Salt and pepper for seasoning
    Heat butte in a skillet. Add the flour and cook for 2 min. Add the milk. Reduce to half its volume. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. 
    Use as spread on your toast.
    Have it with some rich, dark coffee.

    Welcome autumn. And welcome November

    Happy eating and healthy living

    Oct 29, 2010

    Dare to be cute: Butter ball cookies for Halloween! Trick or treat?

    Now, Halloween does not always have to be scary. It can be daring too. What do ya' think? 

    That's me pumpkin this year. And its bright on my patio. And dare you walk may find yourself just in time for some cute butterball cookies that are just fresh out of theoven. But hurry up, becos I saw a goblin walkin' down the street and he was eye'n my patio, rather mischievously. And I hear he has a big big appetite..especially for something sweet and naughty :) So if you want some trick or treating, come on over before Mr Goblin gets here...

    Butterball cookies * Recipe from Joy Of Baking

    heads up : They taste sugary, savory, buttery and when you bite down..there is little jelly inside! Talk of teasing :)

    Happy Halloween!

    Oct 26, 2010

    The Call of the Wild in a Harissa Chicken Casserole

    I first had a taste of this red and wild spice rub (paste), Harissa, at a French creperie in a farmer's market in southern California. I was living in San Diego as a visiting graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
    Now, San Diego is a long haul from Tunisia, and you can imagine the many stopovers that Harissa may have spent at European ports and cities before making its way across the pond, through street food stands of New York and neighborhood joints of Los Angeles, before I came across it in San Diego.
    No wonder the Harissa that I 'discovered' in that French creperie in the farmer’s market in southern California, is a far cry from the bottle of hot peppers dipped in olive oil that is a primary condiment with any meal in Tunisia.
    Here, of course, Harissa is used as a sauce on pizza, spread on a sub, and all things of our world far removed from staples of Tunisia and of Africa- a place we all emerged from a very long time ago; a call of that wild still remains in all of us. Buried. But not gone. And sometimes there is food that teases out that instinct. Harissa is one such. Red peppers, oil, and raw spices all mixed together in a wonderfully sensual way that teases your palette till you give.
    Yes, it is true that Harissa has seen modification; it has accommodated many versions of change. But what is wonderful about Harissa is that, no matter where you buy it from--the villages of Tunisia or the flea market in Morocco or from some Parisian spice market or the international aisle in a London supermarket or from right here, in Trader's Joe or the World Market in Boulder--a dollop of Harissa will all will always remind you of drum beats, red dusts, festive flags and piercing eyes that look at you straight through the wonderfully dangerous looking masks.  And you instinctively know 'Yes it is from Africa'. And you get a feel of that raw pull of spices and meat stewed over open heat that is to be had with friends and family dodging spirits that are frightening and yet irresistible in their antiquity.
    Harissa...from the continent, where cheetahs still roam and festive drums beat. You don't want to miss that during this festive time.


    1.5-2 pounds of chicken. Bone in with some skin is best. You can also probably get away with the dark meat of the thigh and drumsticks. But do not rely on breast meet, please. Also, I highly recommend good quality farm raised chicken. Organic. The surest way to kill this recipe is by compromising on the chicken

    Harissa: You can make some, and you may want some modifications. Just don’t kill the fiery spirit of this spice blend
    1 tbsp whole cumin
    2 tbsp of whole coriander
    1 tbsp of whole fennel
    Roast the whole spices for few minutes and grind together. You can also simply use powdered versions of the spices or even more simply, get some from your grocer. But for awesome flavor, you can roast the whole spices and grind it in a coffee grinder

    3-4 cloves of garlic
    1/4 cup of good quality tomato paste
    3 tbsp of olive oil (I used Tunisian as well as Californian versions. They all go well here)

    Salt and black pepper to taste

    The simplicity of this recipe rocks!
    Puree garlic, tomato paste and olive oil with the Harissa paste (that you hopefully made?) together in a food processor to make a marinade. Place chicken in an oven –friendly bowl; add the marinade; mix well and let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes or in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to overnight. The longer you marinate the better it is of course. Now you have three possible courses of actions
    1. You can grill the chicken: Awesome flavors develop and serve it with pita and cucumbers. Perfect for early autumn dinner or the patio.
    2. You can cook the slow cook on stove top: Place the chicken and every bit of marinade you can save and some water (half a cup) in a Dutch oven (or any stovetop safe pot really), turn up the stove to 6 (no high heat), do not cover, but stir gently from time to time. Let the heat work its magic for about 60-90 minutes  (depending on your stove and the meat it could take longer). This version renders a stew-like version. Great with some bread and wine.

    3. This is the easiest and the best way Preheat oven to 420 F. Takes about 15 minutes. Cover the bowl (I used a casserole; you could use Aluminum foil) and bake for 60 min at 420 F (you may need to adjust the temperature). This process helps the chicken become tender and mix with the marinade well. Uncover and cook at 450 F for another 5 min. For extra grill flavor, follow by broiling at high for 2 minutes. Watch the broil. Serve with some couscous or brown rice and bask in all the glory of the compliments you recieve :) 

    As simple as that, and as compelling as that. A feast for the eyes and every other sense :)

    Happy eating and healthy living!

    Happy eating and healthy living!