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