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 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....!