Saturday, March 1, 2014

Been too long!

Umm, hello, anybody still here?? 

My poor, poor blog has been terribly neglected! I wonder if I even have any readers left at all.... I am however, just popping in to say a quick hello, tell you that I am alive and well and shall resume blogging very 'soonly'. There is plenty to share and much to cook. Leaving you with a picture of our early morning weekend breakfast tray, really though, I was dying to show off the actual tray. A  friend picked it up for me, after I shamelessly drooled over a similar one at her house. 

My two and a half readers (that too is doubtful) thankyou for staying with me....if you still come back and check for new posts, I am truly grateful. Do stay. 

PS- Just incase you are curious about what was being served in those plates, well, just plain ole' French Toast. Baaah! 

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 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 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! :)