Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Everyday Chicken Curry-No fuss and No Brainer

This is perhaps the easiest curry on the block. Yes, yes, involves a lot of 'bhunoing' and chopping and use of spices but even so, I still say it is the easiest. The kinds you don't even need to think and plan and shop for. The kind you can serve with an elegant pulao to unannounced guests and get away with them thinking, wow, you did so much for us!! If this is what you serve when we don't tell you of our arrival in advance, what would you cook if we did! Umm, in which case I would probably serve an elaborate roast Raan with a choice of Indian breads or a Biryani , the full works. But in the mean time, this basic Murghi Ka Salan (chicken curry) will have to do! It is my go-to mid week curry which I nearly always serve with fresh peas Pulao and a vegetable Raita. Serve a tangy mint chutney on the side with fresh Lassi or Lemonade or even a cup of hot masala Chai later, and you will win hearts. (I know we don't start a sentence with an 'and', thankyou). 

I would be foolish to claim that it is 'my' recipe. For it is not. It belongs to millions of  other subcontinental  households across the world. Perhaps the method or choice of spices might vary here and there, but essentially the base of a good curry remains the same. Pretty much a throw- in -everything -you- have- in- the pantry approach and 'bhuno' it to death and well, that's about it really. :) Personally, I make this so often that it isn't even considered special in any shape or form by my boys anymore! Talk about 'ghar ki murghi, dal barabar' ! Loosely translated, a meat which has the potential to become something really awesome and outta this world gets reduced to the level of  a dal dish-an everyday, ordinary meal for us. Or something like that. I am not a language teacher anyway.

To begin with please go and read my recipe for Garam Masala because you will need to use some. Or else, use any of your choice, home made or store bought, won't be an issue. Like I said, slight variations exist in every family curry!

Here is what you will need:

About 500 gms of chicken, cut in to pieces, bone in, washed and drained well.
*You can use just thighs/legs/drums too.

1 large onion, finely sliced
1 large tomato, either chopped fine or blend in to a paste like I do. Adds a nice body to the curry.
1tbsp ginger-garlic paste
2-4 green chillies, chopped fine or slit lengthwise

Spices you will need:

1 tbsp of corriander powder
1tsp heaped cumin powder
1 tsp levelled tumeric powder
1tsp freshly cracked black pepper corns
1 tsp levelled, kashmiri red chilli powder (optional)-more for colour rather than heat
1 tbsp of Garam Masala divided,  keep a fat pinch aside from this measurement, to be used later.
Salt to taste 
4tbsp mustard oil for cooking or your choice of any cooking oil. This is distinctively a North Indian curry, so avoid using coconut oil, but even if you do, I don't see how I can stop you! :)

A tbsp of fresh green corriander leaves, finely chopped, a few thin matchstick style julliened ginger and 2-3 green chillies slit lengthwise. ( I dont add any green chillies at all since my son cannot handle the heat) As always, adjust the amount of chillies you prefer.

Start by heating the oil in a large wok. Mustard oil has a strong, sharp smell and just as you see it begining to smoke up a bit, add the chopped onions and fry them untill really browned well. Mid way to frying those onions, add the ginger garlic paste. Brown this all together. This is the only stage which requires you to kind of hover over your stove, because while we want it all to brown up nicely, we dont want burnt bits. So resign yourself to a lot of stirring and frying. Next to go in would be the chicken pieces. Mix, stir, coat and let it get browned really well on all sides. I usually do all this on a high flame. Takes a good ten minutes at least and plus some more maybe. By the end of so much of stirring around and mixing the chicken pieces with the onions etc, all the moisture should have evaporated. It should pretty much dry up, with the oil clearly separated and visible. The chicken should also be half cooked by now. * If you are using very fresh chicken, it will take time to cook till nearly done or even half cooked.

    See how nicely browned my chicken pieces are? And I chucked in a couple of potatoes too. 

The next stage, one by one, start adding all the spices- turmeric, cumin, corriander, pepper, kashmiri chilli powder, and the garam masala. Just reserve a fat pinch of garam masala on the side. Mix thoroughly and let the chicken be coated with all the spices. Add salt to taste. Add the tomato paste you made, mix. Sprinkle some fresh corriander leaves, julliened ginger slices, slit green chillies and a big pinch of garam masala powder you had kept aside. Cover and cook on 'dum' on very low flame for about fifteen or twenty minutes or untill you think the chicken is cooked through. 

  The tomato paste as been added, ginger, corriander leaves and a pinch of garam masala       sprinkled on top, this will be covered and slow cooked untill done.

Get your sides ready while the curry cooks, here is my vegetable Raita with chopped shallots, bell pepper, cucumber,green chillies, salt, spices and a generous dash of fresh lemon juice. 

Peas Pulao, Raita and the ahem 'the curry'!!

Serve garnished with some more fresh corriander leaves, a Pulao and some Raita. Plonk a big pitcher of fresh lemonade to wash it down. Sit back and enjoy the compliments this 'no-brainer' curry will fetch you from even the most fussy member on the dining table! :) As for me, I am wondering why don't I ask the hubster to tag me along to London this week. He is off for a business trip and has planned to take some his clients for an authentic curry night. Unless he heads to Southall or Hounslow, I know he can be sure of a huge bill for a measly bowl of totally dodgy curry! If I was going, I would have gladly hosted all his clients, and be sure of winning some more big fat contracts. And some definite converts to curry too! 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Benarsi Chuda Matar- minus the frills!

This post was meant to be done quite some days ago. It's been lying in the draft from the day I actually cooked this recipe. One evening, spurred by my usual impulsive nature, I decided to make some Chuda Matar! I don't make it as often as I would like to because I restrict my carbs at every meal. But this one is a genuine weakness of mine and on my cheat days, I sometimes indulge. An all time favourite, tea time snack we love to eat by the bowlfuls during winters. A close cousin of the Maharashtrian 'Poha', this isn't that famous in all of northern region of India. It is infact kind of restricted to Eastern UP and Bihar- and maybe in Delhi, made famous no doubt,  by some UP immigrant! :) Anyhow, no matter where you may be from, once you have had this bowl of goodness, you will keep wanting more, and that is a promise. 

A quick and easy snack, flattened rice is stir fried in desi ghee along with fresh green peas available only during winters in the north. Ofcourse, here in Dubai, I am forced to use frozen peas, but I use so much of seasoning etc, I can recreate almost the same taste as the one we have back home. It can be made as mild or as spicy as you wish, the best thing is that it is so easy to customise and so I wouldn't worry too much about getting it right. It is a non fussy snack, the variations appealing to almost everybody. The Maharashtrian version uses tiny cubed potatoes and peanuts along with finely chopped onions.Some folks also add veggies like carrots, cauliflower etc. No thank you. The Benarsi method is usually easier and somehow has ended up being a very 'Jain' friendly dish. So we don't use onions or garlic. Fresh ginger is however liberally used, along with easy to assemble spices. The end result is a tangy-sweetish dish, a sure winner. If you like Poha, you will like any cousin of it too!

Here's what you will need: 

This recipe serves one if you are very greedy like me or else will do just fine for two people too

1 large cup of 'Chuda'- flattened rice
1 medium sized cup of fresh or frozen peas
1' ginger- finely grated
2-3 green chillies- chopped very fine
1tbsp finely chopped fresh corriander leaves


A pinch of aesafotida 
1 tsp  mustard seeds
1.5 tsp of cumin seeds
1tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp of freshly cracked black pepper 
1 heaped tsp of mango powder or juice of one large fresh lemon
1 tsp sugar
1tbsp of  'bhuna masala' ( dry roast 1 tbsp of corriander seeds and 1tbsp of cumin seeds, cool, grind to a fine powder) 
1/2 tsp of any garam masala powder.
Salt to taste

2 tbsp full desi ghee

First off, take the chuda in a sieve. You need to be careful here, wash it quickly under running water no more than 10 seconds. I am serious about this step, if you exceed the time I recommend, you are likely to end up with a very lumpy dish in the end. But even before washing, just tap the sieve gently over the kitchen sink, any dust particles which dry chuda tends to have, will get 'dusted away'. Keep aside and let it drain. Like the in the pic below. 

Next heat the ghee in a large round bottomed wok. Once heated through, chuck in the aesafotida, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and let them splutter for a few seconds. Add grated ginger now. Let it brown on a medium flame. Once the ginger starts getting golden brown and gives off an aroma , add in the green chillies and fresh peas. Saute and mix. 

Just as the peas begin to cook ( you may have to cover and cook them esp if you are using fresh ones), add in tumeric, chuda flakes, the rest of the spices, fresh corriander, salt and sugar. Mix thoroughly. Just before you will cover and cook this for about ten minutes, sprinkle the garam masala, cover and let cook on a low flame for about ten minutes or so. 

Keep the flame low else the chuda might start sticking to the bottom of your pan. The steam which builds up inside when covered, makes the chuda-matar just slightly moist and soft. The entire process from start to finish shouldn't take more than twenty minutes. Whatever time it does take is because of the need to cook peas. Once done, serve hot with wedges of lime and a hot cup of chai. 

PS- Some people do add raisins and cashews too,  which I personally really dislike. Serve this with a chutney of corriander or tamarind. I make do with ketchup usually. And mostly not even that, because I am too impatient to wait. 

                This is how the final dish is supposed to look, a brilliant yellow! 

Have it for your evening tea time, filling and super tasty. Minus the frills. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Garam Masala- from the North.

If you were to meet any random Indian, discussing curries and kebabs, you will keep hearing references to the ubiquitous "Garam Masala'-  that one single blend of spices which sounds oh so mysterious, but is infact so ordinary and everyday ! Then the recipe itself is so varied and yet essentially same, with only a few ingredients here or there. So a billion homes will have a billion variations I think! Or maybe not. Having said that, nearly all homes use it frequently in their everyday cooking without even giving much thought to it, and  yet every Indian cook is rather fussy about their choice of Garam Masala. How ironical!  

Garam Masala for all it's ordinariness, is not meant to be used liberally in any recipe, be it a Korma or a Kebab or a Biryani or anything else you might be making. If you have used some choice spices, of the finest quality, all you really need is to use just a little. There are again,several ways of using it, sometimes to marinate (rarely) sometimes whole spices without powdering it, sometimes in the beginning of a recipe and sometimes only towards the end, just as your dish is nearly done and is ready to be served. I have over the years, tried many different blends and the one now I tend to favour , is my favourite. I mix and grind my own small batches, and while it doesn't last long, I dont mind because I love the idea of using home ground Garam Masala. I have used store bought ones also, but soon got frustrated when I realized how substandard most of the brands are. Especially when it comes to aroma and I figured this out quite by chance while making Biryanis- whenever I used store bought Garam Masala, the fragrance which is so important in a Biryani would be missing! Soon, I simply stopped buying it altogether.  

Before you go to the recipe/method of making your own, remember to keep some tips in mind. A lot of people mix corriander and cumin seeds to their blend, I suggest you either avoid it altogether or just use very little. The bulk of the body ought to be made of fine, expensive spices- like green cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and mace. The commercial ones have a lot of corriander and cumin powders instead of the real stuff, which is probably why the quality is mediocre at it's best. I do use a bit of those two, but mainly for a dark, rich colour. Again, some people dry roast all the spices on a cast iron girdle/pan, believing that the heat makes the oils of the spices more potent. I don't do it. It is really up to you. I like the raw, strong flavor and smell of unroasted spices, I feel it lasts longer too that way. Don't skip on the spices which might be expensive in general, they do add a certain 'grandness' to this grand dame of all spice blends! LOLLLL. For example, use Shahjeera, instead of the usual white cumin... and finally, make a small batch. Don't make a large one because you want to retain the freshness and potency till the end. My recipe here has approximate measures. I eye ball everything and with years of practise, don't need an exact measure...so even if you dont strictly follow my measurements  don't sweat please.

Here is what you will need:

1 tbsp heaped, green cardamoms- I generally remove the skin, but you can leave it on too.
4 big black cardamoms, with skin
20 -25 cloves
20-30 black pepper corns
4' inch cinnamon stick
About 1/4 tsp of crushed nutmeg
About 10-15 blades of mace

*1tsp heaped- Shajeera (black cumin) and corriander seeds.(optional)

* I use Nutmeg and Mace for the convenience they provide- esp when I am making rice Pulaos and Biryanis- these dishes need nutmeg and mace, so  instead of using them separately as most people do, I just prefer mixing  them together with the rest of the spices. 

Grind to a fine powder in a coffee grinder/mixer. You will get about 3 tbsps of fine blend. Store in a clean, airtight container. I had to share this with you all urgently because my next few posts will call for garam masala quite frequently, best to get the basics out of the way! 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chappli Kebabs for all times!

Things have been unusually hectic this month. Lots of birthdays including hubster's. One weekend, we had to attend three birthday parties back to back and once we were done, it struck us perhaps we really are getting old, me and hubster that is. It was tiring. The only thing going for me was the fact that I hardly cooked most weekends, that is a welcome break. So many invites! But I cannot stay away too long, cooking in my kitchen relaxes me. September also saw a spate of invitations to attend cooking demos, exhibits and festivals and blogger meet ups. I had to say no to each sadly. I just don't have the time or the energy to network, even if it is food related! A friend of mine who is very active on the food network scene in Dubai lamented at the lost opportunities, but really, after living eight years in Dubai, the one thing that has not become 'my thing' is networking. I am such a home-body. I like being home. The only time I like stepping out is when I know I am going to be shopping. Typical. It seems I have missed many chances, of meeting celebrity chefs, celebrity food bloggers (what in the world are those?), food blogging meet ups and cooking lessons/demos et all. I have a feeling my friend will now stop sending me invites and passes. Sorry V!  Oh well. It is simply too much of an effort honestly. Inspite of having a hubster who wishes I go out more and a chauffeur to drive me around. Naah. I will pass. 

In between attending parties and pacifying miffed blogger friends, I made some Chappli Kebabs for breakfast the other day. Lightly spiced, easy to assemble and non fussy, it is different in that, we use lots of tomatoes in it. These are traditionally from Pakistani homes but you will find  them in North Indian muslim homes too. I myself  learnt it from our family lawyer's wife , back in Varanasi. I thought it was super easy and pretty versatile given that she was serving it for breakfast with hot, butter laden paranthas and a big cup of Chai. Serve it whenever you like actually. As an appetiser, as a side, for breakfast or even tea time. We are a meat loving family, so for us anytime is a good time to eat kebabs, we don't wait for any special times around here. 

Here is what you will need:

Finely minced meat of Mutton or Beef :               500 gms
Meat Tenderizer 1 tsp or grated  raw Papaya : 2 tbsp 

1 Medium onion, very finely chopped
2 Medium tomatoes, very finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh corriander, finely chopped
3-4 fresh green chillies, very finely chopped
1tbsp garlic paste
1.5 tsp ginger paste

1tbsp roasted and crushed cumin seeds
2 tbsp roasted and crushed corriander seeds
1/2 tsp crushed black pepper corns or 1/2 tsp of crushed dry red chillies
1 tsp roasted and crushed anaardana (optional)
1 tsp garam masala (optional, I did not use any)
Salt to taste
Oil for shallow frying. I used unsalted butter. 
As always, adjust the chillies according to taste, this is actually supposed to be a mild Kebab with not many spices being used. 

Mix the mince with the meat tenderizer or grated Papaya if you are using that. Add all the dry spices along with ginger-garlic paste, green chillies and fresh corriander. Do not add  salt, onions and tomatoes just yet so that there is no moisture released from these, making your mixture too wet. Keep aside for 1-4 hours. Just before you have to fry the patties, about fifteen minutes before, add the chopped oinions, tomatoes and salt. Mix gently. Take a largish amount in your palms, make a ball and flatten in to broad patties. These kebabs are almost as large as a standard burger patty.

 Heat oil in a wide, shallow frying pan or your 'tawa'. Once hot, fry the kebabs on medium to low flame, a good five minutes at least on each side. Because we add onions and tomatoes both, the mixture tends to be a little wet. So take care when shaping the patties, be gentle when placing them in oil or when you flip them over. Once they are cooking though, they will begin to firm up.  Fry them untill browned and done, keep checking for it's 'doneness'.

 Serve warm with paranthas or naans along with a chutney of choice. Isn't it the easiest? 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Quiet Mornings With Masala Chai

I have a morning ritual. Everyday. I am up at 4.30 a.m. and untill my daily chores begin at 5.30, I dedicate this one hour to myself. I was never a morning person for the longest time, but last year I adopted a lifestyle which is healthier and sustainable. I started a Paleo Diet, found an excellent nutritionist who guided me and helped me to lose a tremendous amount of weight. Apart from that, I also began excercising. I figured, if I want to lead a long and a fit life, to enjoy some grandbabies (primarily and God willing) I better do something about it. :) 

Even though we are only two and a half in my family, I still have plenty to do during the day. There is a quiet lull in the hot afternoons and evenings are again busy, untill bed time. So this one hour in the morning is my favourite part of the day, when it is still dark outside and the boys are fast asleep. No TV, no music and no sound. I am still in my PJ's and the first thing I do is brew a cup of Chai for myself. While I sip my tea, I sometimes just sit and soak up the silence. Sometimes I read or surf the net. Usually I journal. No structure to my ritual, just being at peace thinking of the day ahead. I have been meaning to share my way of making 'Masala Chai' since some time now. My husband is a coffee drinker and is not fussy at all about his coffee. Me on the other hand, am fussy about how I make my Chai. We have managed to live with this difference quite easily, like an old pair of gloves, fitting comfortably, without abrasions. After all these years, he has infact learnt how to make me a perfect cuppa. And I think that is lovely. 

Here is how you do it my way:

1 medium sized  cup of water 
1 small sized cup of full fat milk

1 tbsp tea leaves which has been mixed with:

1/2 tsp or 2  cardamoms crushed coarsely
1/2 tsp dry ginger powder
A small pinch of cinnamon powder (optional) 
Sugar to taste

I usually make my own blend at home. I grind cardamoms, cinnamon and dry ginger coarsely and mix it with my 500gms of tea leaves. Store in an air tight container, saves me the hassle of opening individual spice jars. You can see tiny specks of cardamom skin in the pic above, blended with the tea leaves! :)

Set the water to boil in a sauce pan. Add milk to it. As it just starts to boil, add the tea leaves with the spices. It is important to remember, not to tip in the leaves if the milk-water is not really hot or almost boiling. Else the flavours of the tea leaves gets locked in without being released properly. 
Bring to boil once, reduce flame to low and brew gently for a minimum of five minutes and maximum eight minutes. By this time your chai will be done. I dont drink it very strong, so five minutes are good for me. Strain and serve in a pretty mug. Take time, be slow, savour and sip your way to the zen land. 

Here's to my Chai Mornings! 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Quietening the Self and some musings on Varanasi

It is only when I am away from home, from Dubai, do I realise just how much I love this place. Going home, Varanasi, is never easy for me. I was born and brought up there, I have my family there and yet as far back as I can remember, I was an uneasy 'Benarsi". They say you are born Benarsi, you either are or you aren't. I am certain of being the latter type. I have no shame in admitting that, honestly! Contrary to what most people believe, I find Varanasi extremely disturbing, emotionaly, physically and most importantly, spiritually.  As a little girl, I remember, feeling restless, a strange sense of detachment towards my birth place. I just never connected it seems. When grown ups would ask me, 'what do you want to be when you become a big girl?', my answer without fail would be, I want to leave this place.... I do have memories of a happy childhood, my entire family and friends surrounding me, I had everything to nourish me and yet they  knew I was straining to simply 'get away'. 

I now lead a quiet, sedate life in Dubai, with my husband and child. It is extremely calm and peaceful, my life that is. My parents are still there. Every year, twice a year, I go back to see them. That is all. I go to see my parents and  if they were not there, I would simply stop my visits. And for some favourite aunts and cousins. For now, when I do go back, the reality is even more stark. I am convinced it is also because of my own spiritual evolution. Since I found Christ, Varanasi disturbs me to my very core. It shakes me up. There is no light. There is no love. Only a deep,unfathomable darkness, mindless yet palpable. The moment I land there, is one of deep anxiety. Which stays with me throughout my stay. I live like a recluse. Refusing to step out, relatives and friends graciously come to see me instead. And for that I am grateful. But the city has nothing to offer, it only drains me. I come back, tired, shaken up and almost physically sick each time. I don't try and analyse it too much for I know, my home here, is waiting for me. Nourishing my house after the weeks of my absence and neglect is what restores me, slowly. I walk around the house, touching everything, remembering my life here, the peace I find here...and let the healing begin, untill next time I have to go back. 

Here are a few pictures which are like a balm to my weary heart. These are little corners in my house, simple and yet restorative for my frazzled soul. This air helps me to grab back whatever I seem to lose in Varanasi. These help me shake off the very dust and air which clings to me in Varanasi...cooking for my guys, gardening, re-connecting as a mommy and wife, reforming the gentle rhythms of my daily life. I strive to absorb some peace from my surroundings, especially my house. 

This is my tiny world, gentle and reassuring. May my soul always be quiet and still as the Bible says. Amen! 
Linking up to Patty's Weekly Story I have been away too long, let me join the party! :)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Gosht Yakhni Pulao

It has been a long time, isn't it? No points for guessing, like any other expat living in the Middle East, I had gone back to India for my summer holidays. It was quite a trip. Six weeks never felt so long! 

Just glad to be back, really, really glad. 

I don't consider myself a foodie. I am a picky eater by any standards and am not very open to new culinary ideas. I also don't live to eat, I eat because I have to live. That's about it. Honestly. But then there are some kinds of food which will break all your pre-set notions and ideas, real or imaginary. It will have a strong grip on you and one must then do nothing but succumb. For me it my Nani's Yakhni Pualo. Chunks of goat meat, cooked with rice in it's own stock, mildly spiced and absolutely perfect. It is my all time favourite one pot meal, anytime, anywhere!  It was made as far back as my fourth generation prior, by my great grandmother, perfected by my grandmother and passed down to our family cook because well, my mother cannot cook! So, I have stepped in and am taking the legacy of Yakhni pulao forward. I am happy to report, my five year old loves it too. Score! The recipe is simple enough, albeit time taking. But throw in some patience and you shall be richly rewarded. You dont need to assemble a lot of ingredients  there can be short cuts employed with no major difference to the final outcome, but trust me on this one-slow and easy, so worth it. 

From a  typical North Indian/Pakistani kitchen,  Gosht Yakhni Pulao. It is in the strictest of terms, truly 'riwaayati' (traditional). Most families also tend to use this same recipe, with the exception of choosing between yoghurt or tomatoes. Please note this is not a Biryani. It is a Pualo and so you don't make layers of rice and meat . Cook this with the usual manner in which you would make any pulao. This pulao is known for it's mild flavours, with the taste of corriander and fennel seeds dominating. Those two are important. Some people add either tomatoes or yoghurt. I add a little of both. As always, the amount of chillies you use is up to you. Try getting the same cuts of meat as you would for a biryani. Be sure to include a few Nallis- for it's marrow. It lends a fantastic flavour to the final prep. Yakhni, means stock and as the name suggests, the difference between this pulao and the other regular ones is the use of meat stock to actually cook the rice in.

Here is what you will need:

1 kg of mutton/beef
2 large onions, sliced thinly and divided in to halves.
1 ' of ginger whole or chopped in to chunks.
6-8 garlic cloves

1 large tomato, cut in to rounds.
1 cup of yoghurt, whisked.

Spices to be coarsely ground: ensure you dont make a powder. 

1 heaped tbsp of fennel seeds
3 tbsp of heaped whole corriander seeds
1 tsp of Shah Jeera + 1/2 tsp more
1.5' stick of cinammon
6 cloves
10-12 black pepper corns
2 black big cardamom
4-6 green cardamom
10 whole dry red chillies ( dont worry too much about the qty being used here, adding yoghurt to the pot will make the pulao mild later)
a pinch of nutmeg and mace each 
1 large bay leaf
*Once you make a powder, take this spice blend and tie it up in a 6' sqaure muslin cloth. This is known as a 'Garni'. You make a little pouch/potli of these masalas, to season your stock. Do use a really thin cloth for this, like I said, use Muslin. 

Good quality Basmati rice- 2.5 cups. Soaked for about 15 minutes, just before you are about to add the rice to cook and not before. 
6 -7 cups of water.
Salt to taste
4 tbsp oil to cook. 

Start by making a stock by boiling the water, salt, mutton pieces, half of the sliced onions, ginger, garlic. Also, add the little 'masala garni' you have made, cook untill meat is tender but not too overcooked. You may use a pressure cooker if you wish to. This is the only time taking process of the recipe. I usually slow cook my meat. In the mean time, while the meat is cooking, take half of the onions you kept aside and fry them caramel golden to garnish later.

Once the meat is done, you can throw away the masala pouch and retain the rest. Strain the stock, and keep the meat pieces aside. retain the onions/ginger/garlic along with it. Make sure the meat is well drained of the stock.

Measure the stock, you should have roughly about 5 -6 cups of stock left. If it is more, boil it down. If it isnt enough, don't worry, we will be using some yoghurt too. 

Next take a deep pot, with a thick bottom, one which has a lid and can be used to make rice. Heat the oil, tip in the 1/2 tsp Shah Jeera. As it sizzles, add the meat pieces and stir it around, let it acquire a slightly brown colour, this should take just a few minutes. The onion/ginger/garlic which was cooked along with the meat and retained later will also go in to this. As this starts drying, add the yoghurt, followed by the drained rice. Mix well, taking care not to let the rice stick to the bottom of the pot. Once it is all mixed in nicely, add the stock. This is where, you decide how much of it goes in. I usually measure by inserting my finger and checking to see if the water level just about reaches the first mark of my middle finger. Check for salt again. Set to boil. First on medium high flame, then low flame. As the water starts to dry, spread the tomato rounds over the top. Cover and cook on very low flame, untill the rice is cooked. I just lower the flame to the lowest mark, let it sit for another maybe fifteen minutes and open it only when I have to serve.

When ready to serve, garnish with caramelised onions. Served with a raita, papads and desi style tomato salsa. This pulao tastes fabulous the next day too. Enjoy.

I made this pulao as soon as I landed back here , to remember home. It was perfect. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

From the family Kithcen: Kurkuri Bhindi Raita- Crispy fried Okra in a Yoghurt Dip

This post  is dedicated to my aunt Shirley, my mother's older sister. I made a few changes, the final result was slightly different from what I learnt from her, but the basics remain the same. Okra bits deep fried with a spicy coating. Crunchy, crispy, spicy and very different!This recipe has also been inspired by my memories of an amazingly blessed, food filled childhood and my aunt who made so much fun happen in our small town lives!

 I have very strong food-memories , growing up in Benaras. One of them is of my aunt's house (and the food she served us) who  lives in the suburbs of Varanasi and it is a bit like a rural farmhouse. She has this huge terrace- porch and winters there are absolute bliss. In summers too,  it is the perfect place to have a meal al fresco, under the stars with the men of the house making Indian style barbeque if you will! Litti chokha, eggplants, potatoes and garlic roasting away on the open fire, dal cooking in a clay pot, desi ghee kept in a big bowl to dunk the littis in, a bit pot of spicy mutton curry being 'bhunoed', kachumber salad being assembled-raddish,tomatoes, cucumbers,onions,lots of green chillies, salt and lime,  mosquito repellent coils burning away in a corner.

 I have grown up in my aunt's house and her children, my cousins, in ours. Thousands of meals have been eaten with my aunt's family, the family cook given instructions to always make something special, chutneys, salads, papads, kebabs flowing endlessly...the main course a grand gosht yakhni pulao or bhuna keema, koftas, dal-gosht, raseydaar aloo with pooris-runny potato curry typical to UP, bhurjis, on occasions even Khow Suey, assorted pakoda platters or sabzi kalaunji....followed by ghujias, gulaab jamuns, rasgollas, kal kal and what not for dessert. Some times a huge platter of fresh seasonal fruits. With lunch over, tea time would arrive pretty fast too! Hot mugs of chai and pakodas, bread rolls stuffed with mince, cheese, potatoes...fat green chillies coated with flour and deep fried, samosas. My aunt would sit there like a grand dame and direct us all to just dig in! Her fleet of maids fussing over us kids, ensuring hot, fresh delicacies and enjoying our genuine praises (and gluttony).

My mother and aunt both have fabulous cooks to do their family cooking but times have changed now. There aren't that many people to cook for anymore.  All of us children are grown up, married and settled across the globe. We hardly get to meet as often as we would like to. We try though, to travel to India for Christmas at least, esp my sister in Canada and me. Along with our brood, trying hard to re-capture those special memories for the sake of our kids...those memories are a part of who I am today. Our spouses looking on with fond amusement! Perhaps the reason why I love to feed people. ( I dont always enjoy cooking even if that is hard to believe). My own house is now famous for good food and for 'barkat' (blessing/abundance in Urdu). Nobody who steps in to this house shall ever leave without a hot meal or chai/snack. And I learnt it from my parents but esp my aunt Shirley, who they say is just like her own mother(my maternal grandma, called Nana by all) when it comes to hosting, to feeding people,  generous and awesome in her hospitality.
PS- Mom, I know you are amazing too, but let's face it, you are not in to food at all so no point in talking about food and you in the same breath. :)

Here is what you will need:

1/2 kg Okra/Bhindi- washed, completely dried and cut in to very thin discs.

Make a spice blend of the following:

1/2 cup Besan (chickpea flour) or
1/2 cup rice flour
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1tsp mango powder
1tbsp of bhuna masala- made by dry roasting equal qunatities of corriander and cumin seeds. Take a heaped tsp of each, roast in a non stick pan, cool and grind to a coarse powder. ( keep a fat pinch of it aside to use for garnishing later)
1 tsp of Shaan's tikka masala or tandoori masala powder (optional)
Salt to taste *

For the Raita/yoghurt dip

150 gms or a large mug of thick yoghurt, mixed with a little water and thinned slightly, whipped nicely
2-3 cloves of garlic- crushed, not ground
Juice of 1 fresh lemon
Salt to taste

A few mint leaves roughly chopped-to garnish
A fat pinch of bhuna masala-to garnish
Chaat masala -  according to taste/ to sprinkle (optional)

Mustard oil or any vegetable oil for deep frying.

Some notes:

*Do not add salt to the chopped Okra untill just before frying as it will release moisture and may make it soggy.
*Mix your raita before hand and keep away in the fridge to remain cold.
* I used Shaan's Tikka masala, you can use any brand really, or not use it at all, in which case you might want to increase the chilli powder, but it is up to you.
*Chop the Okra in to wafer thin round discs, you will get uniformed frying/cooking. I didn't, I simply cut them slanted lengthwise. Didnt look pretty I think!
* Be careful with adding salt since we are using for both, the Okra slices as well as the yoghurt, plus you might be using chaat masala too in the end , which also has salt. So go easy and increase only if you find it isn't enough for you.

The reddish tinge in the picture above is because of using Tikka masala.

Here is how you fry the Okra and assemble the Raita:

Combine all the spices along with the besan or the rice flour, except salt and sprinkle it over the chopped Okra. Work with dry hands, and gently mix it together in a large bowl. Keep aside for twenty to thirty minutes. Just when you are ready to fry them, heat a wok with mustard oil. The depth of the oil should be at least an inch high. When the oil is hot, reduce flame to medium- quickly add salt now, mix  and fry the Okra in small batches so that the wok doesnt get crowded. Alternatively, sprinkle salt over each batch as you fry it. Fry the entire amount and spread it out on a large plate. Dont use a paper kitchen towel to soak the oil. Instead, just keep the plate slightly raised and tilted and the oil will slowly drain off and collect on one side. Using a tissue will make the fried Okra soggy. I fried mine on low/medium flame throughout. Will take some time but that is how you will get them crispy!

Keep the fried Okra just as is. Do not cover. When you are ready to serve, mix it together with the yoghurt sauce, sprinkle some more bhuna masala, adjust salt, garnish with a few mint leaves and serve! Remember not to combine these too long before the actual serving time, else it might become a soggy mess. 

I serve this Raita in individual bowls for my guests.

Serve this with an elaborate Biryani or Pulao! You can also serve this just on the side and skip the yoghurt completely, it is espeically yummy with dal-rice, fresh corriander chutney and some chopped onions seasoned with salt and lime. It has made many a childhood afternoons special for me. I hope you enjoy it too. :)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Raseydaar Methi Malai Jheengey-Shrimps in a creamy, fenugreek flavoured curry.

Not too long ago I posted a recipe for Methi Masala Shrimps. Some of my friends tried it and loved it. I usually make that for starters and it is always a hit. I happen to know quite a few combinations and permutations of spices and being absolutely hyper and restless with most things, I keep trying them out with different kinds of meat and fish. The results are not always good trust me, but the one I 'formulated' last night, was thankfuly a success. Gosh, I do sound imprtant huh!  I shared on my FB page that I was not in a mood to cook at all last night and yet the menu plan for Tuesday was already in place, the ingredients bought for it and some prep done by my maid before she left. She is a Bangladeshi and has no ewwwiness in handling fish/seafood, so I got her to wash the Shrimps I was planning to cook. Much to my relief, the fish mongers here will devein and shell the prawns for us.  If I were doing it myself, I would have expected nothing less than diamonds from hubster. Handling and cleaning of anything 'fishy' is not my scene, thank you.

Anyhow, true to myself, I had to come up with a different spice blend for my curry since I wasn't really keen on our usual family Kerela curry . It would have to be distinctively North Indian. So here is what I did. Read on to know what you will need.

1/2 kg fresh shrimps, shelled, de-veined, washed and drained.
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 large tomato, chopped fine
1 tbsp of ginger garlic paste

2 tbsp each of fresh corriander and mint leaves- to garnish

And oooh, my own spice blend : although there is no such thing as 'my own whatever....' , one  cannot really own a recipe if you know what I mean.

1 tsp black cumin seeds i.e shahi jeera
6 green cardamoms
6 cloves
10 black pepper corns
1' cinnamon stick
Nutmeg- just about the size of the nail of your little pinky finger, and I do hope you dont have a humungous pinki-finger-nail.
1 whole dry red chilli ( optional, I didn't use it, however use according  to your  preferance)
1 tbsp heaped almond powder, crush/grind whole almonds

Dry roast the spices mentioned above, except the almond powder in an iron skillet or a non stick pan. Cool and coarsely grind along with almond powder. Keep aside.

1/2 tsp of turmeric
1/2 tsp of red chilli powder
2tbsp fresh cream
1tbsp heaped Kasoori Methi- dry fenugreek leaves,crush between palms and keep.
Salt to taste
Mustard oil or peanut or sesame oil- 4-5 tbsp

* PS-  use red chillies-whole or powdered according to your choice, I didnt use much at all because I had already used crushed black pepper, more than what I have recomended above.

Heat the oil in a round wok/Kadai. Start by frying and browning the ginger garlic paste, followed by the chopped onions. On medium flame, be patient and keep browning untill the oil seperates. Add the chopped tomatoes. Mix/stir/fry/brown again untill the tomatoes are mushy and completely softened. Look for the oil seperating. Now add the ground spices, turmeric, chilli powder if using and salt to taste. Mix well. Cover and cook for about five minutes on low to medium flame, this is for the almond to integrate rather than for the spices to cook because we have already roasted them beforehand. Add about 1/2 cup of hot water should you feel the curry paste is becoming too thick or is sticking to the bottom. We need to get the curry completely ready before we add the shrimps since they cook in no time and we cant let it get over cooked. In the picture below, you can make note of the ground spices with the almonds. It is coarse in texture as you can see. 

The amount and measures I have recommended is not a large one. So the entire cooking time of the curry base wont be more than fifteen minutes, covered on low flame. Or even lesser. In about 10-15 minutes of slow cooking, open lid and add the shrimps. They will rapidly release moisture, so you dont need to add any more water. Mix the shrimps around in the curry. Now sprinkle some crushed Kasoori methi, corriander and mint leaves, dot the top with cream all over, check salt, cover and let the shrimps cook for just five minutes. Turn off the flame and dont remove the lid yet. Let it sit, the cream would have melted and made the curry creamy smooth. 

Just before you serve, give it all a final mix and serve it along with buttered rice, some vegetable stir fry of choice and a cold cucumber/mint raita. Serves four easily.

                           Have fun cooking this and send me feedback.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Aloo Gobhi Murghi- Chicken with Potatoes and Cauliflower

Indian cooking often combines meat with vegetables and most homes have their favourite combos. Apart from the Biryanis and Pulaos, we do have curries and stir fries too, which make good use of random vegetables lying in your pantry along with meat. A very popular curry is of goat meat with turnips- gosht+shaljam. Bengalis are very fond of combining their fish with seasonal veggies. Makes for a sumptous and nutrition packed meal. Up north where I come from, meat eating homes usually tend to cook goat meat with vegetables like Okra, Turnips, Carrots, Cauliflowers and ofcourse everyone's favourite, Potatoes. It is fuss free, tasty and you know you are getting your daily dose of fibres/vitamins/minerals etc from eating those vegetables.

I usually stick to tradtional, desi cooking for our everyday meals. However, the recipe I am sharing today is not your traditional, run of the mill one. For one, we dont really cook chicken with vegetables, like I said, it is usually goat meat. Unless we are making a chinese inspired 'chin-dian' dish! Which is totally different and requires a blog post of it's own. The thing is, last week I happened to go to the local wholsale vegetable market and came back with truckloads of veggies. The results were not pleasant. We are only 2.5 people in this house. Who love meat. Who are not foodies really, who eat to survive I think. Vegetables are eaten here because they 'must' be. Who would finish off all those mind boggling variety of vegetables I got? I mean, how much salad and soups can one eat? And this family? Not likely. So in a moment of some timely inspiration, I got this idea of combining a rather huge cauliflower with some boneless chicken and fresh spring onions. The result was pretty good if I may say so myself. Have a look and try it out, you might be pleasantly surprised. You will need:

1/2 kg of boneless chicken breast pieces, cubed
A medium sized cauliflower cut in to chunky florets
2 medium sized potatoes, diced

1 large red onion, sliced fine
1 bunch of green onions-the leafy part, chopped fine
2 large tomatoes, chopped fine
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1' ginger jullienes
3-4 fresh green chillies, slit
1/2 cup of fresh mint leaves
1 large lemon, to squeeze over later

Dry roast and crush the following:

1 tbsp corriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black pepper
5-6 green cardamoms
2' cinnamon stick
1tsp shahi zeera, black cumin seeds
6-7 cloves
Dry roast in a non stick pan untill browned, cool and crush coarsely.

1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
Salt to taste
1tsp of chaat masala(optional)
1tbsp desi ghee(optional)
4-5 tbsp of any cooking oil, I used mustard oil. Please do not use coconut oil though, as this is a typically north Indian dish.

You start off by heating the oil. Tip in the bay leaf and red onions and brown well on high heat. Add the giner garlic paste next. Brown untill the raw smell is gone. Now put in the chicken pieces. Brown all of this on high heat. In about 10 minutes, add the potatoes and continue to cook now on a medium flame for about 5 minutes. Now you add the green onion stalks and the cauliflower florets. Give it all a good mix, cover and cook on low for about 5-8 minutes. When you remove the lid after a few minutes, you will notice that the cauliflower is softening while the rest of the ingredients have taken on a darker colour. Go ahead and add the ground spices, turmeric powder, red chilli powder  and salt to taste. Mix and stir again. The dish has been cooking for a good 20 minutes by now.

The last cookinng bit requires you to put the pot on 'dum', spread the chopped tomatoes, mint leaves, ginger jullienes, green chillies, the chaat masala, squeeze the lemon juice all over, cover and cook on very low heat for at least 15 minutes. The tomatoes will release a fair bit of moisture. Once the 15 minutes are up, open lid, increase the heat to medium-high, stir and mix vigrously. Let any moisture released evaporate and the dish become more 'browned' and dryish

Just before it goes on 'dum". 

 Also, add the desi ghee now or just before serving. Serve with hot Chapatis and a cucumber Raita.

  You could easily cook this with lamb, goat, beef etc. The cooking time will ofcourse vary and be longer than boneless chicken. Enjoy the diffrent combos and let me know. :)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Vegan's delight- Olives+Almonds Dip.

This weekend we went over to meet our old neighbours. A lovely family who is big time in to healthy living, healthy eating and Yoga. And oh, they are also vegans. So anyway,we caught up over some lovely finger food. My friend also served us this awesome pesto like vegan dip...so simple and bursting with flavours of olives, garlic, shallots and almonds.  I was blown away really! Pat, my friend, is a wonderful cook. While she herself is a vegan, she comes up with some amazing fish recipes. I have tried a few and wow can she cook! She also happens to be a very generous soul and when she saw my amazed delight with the dip that she had served, she immediately told me how it's done. Without even asking! It was so good and is so easy to make, trust me, you will be sending me 'fraandship' requests on fb! Ok sad joke. 

Without wasting anymore time, here is what you will need.

1 cup of fresh green olives, chopped, de-seeded. Make sure you are using good quality ones.
1/2 cup of soaked almonds or almond powder
2-3 pods of garlic
1/2 medium chopped red onion
Juice of 1 small fresh lemon
1-2 tbsp of olive oil
1 green chilli (optional)-I didnt use any since my son was going to be eating some.
salt to taste.

All you have to do is blend the above to a coarse paste. Thats it! Use it as a spread, a dip, as a topping for baked fish/pizzas...the possibilities are endless. I liked it so much, I had spoonfuls of it just by itself. Infact, I finished the whole bowl actually. What must she have thought of my table manners! Sigh.

I served the dip with some plain Nachos. Which was the rubbish part ofcourse....

Used the remaining bit to spread over a baked sea bass fish dish I was making for dinner later...the recipe is from here here . A lovely food blog I discovered yesterday.

This is so good, promise me you will try it at least once??? Pretty please! While I am wondering if I should turn Vegan....!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Queen Of My Castle...1

I love doing up my house. Anytime, all the time. I love interior design. It is perhaps a passion overriding my love for cooking I think. Which is why I am unable to stop myself from sharing pictures of my own house, corners I have done up, the pretty things I collect and keep rotating just to create pleasing vignettes and sighing happily over the end result . I had this passion even as a little kid except my mother wouldn't let me do much around 'her' house . She said 'dont mess with my stuff, wait for your own house'. As far as I was concerned that wasn't happening fast enough. I wanted to be a wife and mommy at age twelve!  Just to be able to decorate and cook to my heart's content, not realising that one needn't be married to indulge in either 1.cooking 2. being creative and decorating and playing house. Sigh. Anyhow, from where I look at it now, I am living my dream and it is being financed by the hubster, so, win-win. This blog is a great way for me to share my creativity and let the juices flow unbashed. Bliss! So long I can, I will be sharing my favourite recipes and ofcourse now on a regular basis, my own home decor ideas/pictures.  

Much as I love interior designing and keeping a pretty house, I dont usually spend a lot of time on sites related to it. It gets too much and I get very frustrated with not having access to most things myself, for eg, Mexican pottery. Gosh, it is so, so,so beautiful and sitting here in Dubai, I am heartbroken that for now I dont have any means of aquiring some. You get my point? So what I do is, play house here itself and keep myself happy with the little changes/decorating I carry out in my own home. It makes me happy at a very deep level. And it makes me happier still, to share it with you, my two and a half readers! Have a look.... I so hope you like what you see. :)

I love to collect glass bottles, candles, pebbles infact, just about everything...

Prettifying the home theatre system...

Then I collect baskets too....this one is from IKEA.

The new dining table top decor, changed completely from my previous picture of the same...that is by the way, an unused wooden photo  frame being used as a tray for this vignette. From Saharanpur-UP.

Toodles for now, hope you all have had a wonderful weekend.  I did, cleaning, organising, decorating and taking pictures. :) Next up, will be another favourite recipe, so do come back please.