Friday, May 27, 2016

Begun Basanti - Eggplants in Mustard and Curd

Begun Basanti. I don't remember where I encountered this dish for the first time but the name lingered in my mind. I only encountered it online, mentioned on someone's post on Facebook or in a food group or some such random location. The name had me hooked. Compared with 'begun bhaja' 'begun pora' 'neem begun' etc., which are bare descriptions of the dish, begun basanti was mysterious and romantic and deicious all at once!

Today a close friend was coming for lunch and these days, whenever someone comes over for a meal I try to cook something new or special, something I haven't cooked a zillion times already. I had a bunch of lovely green long brinjals in the veg drawer in the fridge and since Bengalis love brinjals I knew I was cooking something with these babies. I remembered Begun Basanti and thought of making it finally.

A trawl through the Internet and a glance through my Bengali cookbooks threw up quite a few recipes with many variations - some had curd, some had coconut, while others had posto (poppy seeds), and some had combinations of these, while the common ingredient was mustard paste. I figured out a basic recipe from my reading and proceeded to make my version of Begun Basanti.

6 - 8 long green brinjals
2-3 green chillies
1 inch fresh ginger
1/2 packet Sunrise Mustard powder
4 tbsp curd, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp kalonji or nigella seeds
chilli powder
jeera powder
mustard oil

Wash the brinjals and cut them into long pieces. I cut the brinjal into 4 inch pieces and slit each piece lengthwise.
Sprinkle salt and turmeric on the cut brinjals and leave aside for 10 minutes.
Soak the mustard powder in a little water to make a runny paste and let it sit for 10 - 15 minutes.
Pound the ginger in a mortar to make it as fine as you can.
Heat mustard oil in a wok or kadai and fry the brinjals till soft. Let the cut sides brown but don't burn the brinjals. Remove the fried brinjals to a plate.

In a bowl combine the mustard paste with the beaten curd, smashed fresh ginger, salt and turmeric. Make a smooth mix. This will form your gravy.
In the same oil chuck in the kalonji followed by the green chillies. You can slit the chillies for extra punch.
Now pour in the mustard-curd paste and stir well. Add some chilli powder and jeera powder. Let this cook for a few minutes till the oil separates out again.
Add the fried brinjal pieces and a good pinch of sugar. Stir gently to coat the brinjal pieces with the gravy. Be careful not to squash or break the brinjal pieces. Let it cook for 3 -4 minutes.
Now add half a cup of water, stir and let it simmer for another couple of minutes. Reduce the gravy to a consistency you like.
Add salt if required.
Remove to a nice serving bowl and garnish with fresh chopped coriander.

This is great as a side dish on an elaborate dinner menu and also as the star of a light dinner paired with simple rotis.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Daab'er Shaansh ar Gondhoraaj Lebu diye Chingri - Prawns in Tender Coconut and Gondhoraj Zest

It was one more of the little dinner parties I have - just a few friends, and a completely home-cooked meal. Since one of my guests was a friend from Australia who misses Bengali food a lot, I was cooking a Bengali meal in her honour. I planned to make the entire elaborate traditional meal right from the bhaja, teto (bitter element) daal, through fish, chatney, and a finale of mangsho'r jhol. However we're having sickeningly hot weather and the hubby cautioned me to pare down the menu as no one would actually enjoy the full spread in this awful weather. That did make sense and I edited my menu severely by removing the little fiddly elements like the bhatey (mashed vegetable) and bhaja (fried accompaniment with daal), and even the vegetable course I had planned.  The final menu had a simple daal, plain white rice, a prawn course, mangsho'r jhol (goat curry) and kaancha aam'er chatney, followed by gur'er paayesh for dessert.

I started out with a plan to make Daab Chingri, a well known Bengali classic, with the prawns. I happened to have loads of daab (tender coconuts) at home and it had been a while since I'd made daab chingri. As it happens with me a lot, though I planned a tried and tested and guaranteed to be great dish, something kept me hesitating, not a 100% convinced. I checked countless recipes online and dithered away, or simply cooked the other things on my menu.

And then it was evening and my guests would be arriving in a little more than an hour! I hadn't made any progress with my daab chingri. And then I had an idea. The daab chingri was abandoned but not entirely. I was in the mood to fool around and I had, what I thought would be a brilliant dish in my mind. But I did have guests to feed - so taking no chances I had a quick confer with the hubby and I was back in the kitchen ready to make Daab'er Shaansh ar Gondhoraaj Lebu diye Chingri.

500 gms, fresh medium sized prawns
flesh from two tender coconuts
1 cup tender coconut water
1/2 cup coconut cream
1/2 tsp zest of Gondhoraaj Lemon
1 large onion finely chopped
2 or 3 green chillies minced
1 inch fresh ginger
Mustard oil

Shell and devein the prawns. You can leave the heads on if you like, I don't because the hubby is allergic to the shell. Marinate the washed and drained prawns in salt and turmeric.
In a wok heat the mustard oil. Once it's hot reduce the flame and chuck in the finely chopped onions and the minced green chillies. Fry slowly taking care not to brown the onions at all.
Smash the ginger into a rough paste in your mortar and pestle. Use fresh ginger instead of store bought paste - the flavour is significantly better. Add it to the frying onions.
After a minute or so add the prawns. Stir well and cook over a medium flame till the prawns turn just opaque.
Now add the coconut flesh and the coconut water. Bring it to a boil and add the coconut cream. You can use half a cup of thickly made coconut milk using a commercial coconut powder if you don't have coconut cream. Mix well.
Let it all simmer till the prawns are cooked. Don't over cook your prawns!
Switch off the flame and then sprinkle the Gondhoraaj zest over the curry. Cover the pot and let it infuse for 5 minutes.
Serve with plain hot rice.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

No Mess Tandoori Chicken with Asahi Kasei Foil

This summer we're facing quite a severe water shortage here in Kharghar with water in the taps for less than an hour in a day. One of the biggest fall outs of this situation is that I can hardly cook or bake and that can become really difficult for me to deal with. In the mad dash to fill up water to last through the day, deal with laundry, dishes, and drinking water, not every chore gets done in time. I'm often left with unwashed dishes and half done laundry that takes a couple of days to deal with. There have been times when all I've managed to wash is one coffee mug and the water has gone...

In this situation it's natural that one looks for solutions because eating takeaways and one pot meals for nearly three months is sure to drive us nuts. Yes, I'm using biodegradable disposable plates already and I'm seriously considering paper glasses for coffee/water. But I need to figure out ways to be able to cook interesting things but keep the washing up easy and minimal.

Then I remembered the Asahi Kasei products that I had used at the APB Cook Studio a few months ago at a pot luck event Rushina had hosted. I'd made this Roast Chicken using the cooking foil to fry the potatoes on. I had some of that foil at home and I realised this could be the answer to my prayers!

I decided to make a simple no fuss Tandoori Chicken using the foil in the oven. If you think about it Tandoori Chicken is one of the simplest things one can make at home and that too, with great results. All you really need to do is marinate the chicken for a few hours and then cook it either in a tandoor if you have one, or an oven like I did.

In normal circumstances I would have placed the marinated chicken directly into my baking dish or tray. This time I lined my baking tray with the Asahi Kasei foil and then placed the chicken pieces on it. Not only did I end up with perfectly cooked tandoori chicken thanks to a good recipe, I also had a spotless baking tray with no scorched bits of marinade or cooking juices stuck on it. I could have actually just put that tray back in the cupboard, it was that clean.

For the Tandoori Chicken -

6 full chicken legs - thigh and drumstick
1 cup thick curd
1/2 tsp Amchur powder
2 -3 drops orange food colour (optional)

Grind together in a little vinegar -

8 - 10 Kashmiri chillies
1 tsp Peppercorns
1/2 tsp Cloves
2" piece Cassia bark
2 Black cardamoms
8 - 10 cloves Garlic

Cut deep slashes into the chicken legs. Mix the ground paste into the curd with the remaining ingredients and marinate the chicken pieces for at least 6 hours in the fridge. You can put the marinated pieces into a sealed plastic bag and freeze till you need them. Just make sure you thaw the pieces properly before you cook them.

Preheat your oven to 180C.

Line a baking dish or metal cookie sheet with Asahi Kasei cooking foil. Turn up the edges along the sides of the dish/cookie sheet.  Place the chicken pieces on the foil leaving room around the pieces so they cook properly. Bake in the hot oven for around 40 minutes. Turn the pieces over and cook for another 10 - 15 minutes.

You can also cook this in your frying pan lined with the Asahi Kasei cooking foil. Line the pan with foil covering the cooking surface and the sides of the pan. Place chicken pieces on the foil and then cook covered on a slow flame. Turn the pieces to cook evenly on all sides. The advantage of cooking this dish in the oven is the light charring that gives the tandoori that nice smoked flavour but the pan cooked version is not far behind on the yumminess scale.

Serve hot with rotis, naan, or bread, and sliced onions and fresh lime wedges.

The thing about tandoori chicken is that it's quite a low fat preparation as there's no cream in the marinade and no oil is used in the cooking process. With variations in the marinade one can make quite a range of delicious yet low fat versions of this simple recipe. And of course, the Asahi Kasei foil is quite a boon that makes the washing up woes simply go away.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Mutton Cocktail Kebabs - A Katy's Kitchen Classic

One of the most popular party snacks on the Katy's Kitchen menu is the mutton cocktail kebab. Little morsels of spicy mutton mince deep fried to perfection, these nibbles are perfect for parties or even for a not so quiet evening watching the T20 matches at home. Make ahead if you like (just zap in the microwave before you serve) or serve them hot out of the wok - either way these are just delicious!

Mutton Cocktail Kebabs

1/4 kilo mutton kheema
5 slices bread
2 eggs
2 large onions, chopped fine
1/2 cup fresh coriander, chopped fine
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped fine
5 green chillies, chopped fine
1 heaped tsp ginger garlic paste
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
oil for frying

Mix all the ingredients barring the sliced bread in a clean bowl. Mix well to blend everything nicely.
Soak bread slices in water for a couple of minutes and then squeeze out as much water as possible with your palms. Crumble this soaked and squeezed bread into the kheema mix. Knead everything together. You need to get a slightly wet mix so if it's too dry add another egg.

Heat plenty of oil (enough to deep fry) in a wok or kadai till it smokes. Quickly spoon in the mix, a teaspoon at a time and fry for three or four minutes, turning gently till the kebabs are cooked through. You can also take a large portion of the mix in your hand and drop in small gobbets of the mix into the hot oil. Either way, be very careful as the hot oil can cause accidents. Do this in small batches so you have better control and the kebabs don't get over cooked.

Remove the kebabs onto a tissue lined plate to get rid of excess oil, and then serve with a mint chutney or with good old ketchup. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Sun Dried Tomato Pesto and Grana Padano Pull Apart Rolls

If there's one thing that cheers up the hubby it's the smell of bread baking. He'd been bugging me to make bread at home for quite some time but for one reason or the other it just wasn't happening. This morning I decided nothing was going to get in the way - I was going to bake some bread no matter what. Something simple, comforting, and easy to put together with whatever I had in the fridge and pantry. 

After rooting around I found a jar of sun dried tomato pesto and a wedge of Grana Padano cheese among a whole lot of other things and thought of using the two in pull apart rolls. Pull aparts are among the easiest breads you can make at home, and if you're a beginner with breads, these rolls will boost your confidence for sure. Simply make the basic dough, knead for a bit, let it rise, roll out, slather with filling, roll up, slice into portions, place in baking tin, let rise again, and bake. That's it. It's just the initial kneading that requires some attention, and once that's done it's a matter of following a simple procedure step by step.

I've made pull aparts with many different fillings - some sweet, some savoury - and there's no end to the variety of possibilities. Tomato and cheese is a classic combination and it works very well in breads too. In these rolls I used Grana Padano, a hard cheese from Italy that is similar to Parmesan. In fact, you can use Parmesan instead if you prefer. 

Sun Dried Tomato Pesto and Grana Padano Pull Apart Rolls

200 gms all purpose flour
2 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp sugar
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 tsp butter, softened
1 tsp salt
3-4 tsp sun dried tomato pesto

1/2 cup Grana Padano, grated
extra butter for brushing

Mix the sugar and yeast in a bowl and then pour the luke warm water over both. 

Take flour in a clean mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast-sugar mix. Bring it all together with a pastry cutter (it's less messy) or simply mix with your fingers. You will have a sticky dough. Remove from the bowl to your floured work surface. 

On the side of your work surface mix the butter and salt with your fingers, rubbing in a light circular motion, fingers parallel to the surface. Once the butter looks pale and foamy mix it into the dough. Now knead gently till you have a soft pliable dough, stretching and folding as you go. Dust with dry flour as required if the dough is too sticky. Knead for 10 to 12 minutes. 

Roll the dough into a ball and place it in a clean bowl to rise. Cover with a damp cloth and leave it to double. This should take around 20 to 30 minutes depending on the weather. 

Once the dough has doubled remove it onto your floured work surface. Deflate it gently and knead it for a minute. 

Roll out the dough into a largeish rectangle. Try to get a uniform shape or you will have lop-sided rolls. Spread a generous few dollops of the sun dried tomato pesto going to the edges of the rectangle. Try to drain out as much of the oil as possible from the pesto (when baking, the oil will settle to the bottom of your baking tin and you will end up with 'fried' bits). Grate the cheese over the pesto uniformly. 

Now carefully roll the rectangle Swiss-roll style. Do this gently or your roll will be lumpy and loose. Tighten the roll as you go. You will have a long roll of dough. Cut into rolls with a sharp non serrated knife or a dough scraper. Arrange the rolls loosely in a baking tin, cut sides horizontal, leaving enough room for the rolls to prove and swell till they are double, or just squashed up closely with each other. Use more than one tin if they don't all fit into one, but don't crowd them. 

Once they have proved pop them into a preheated oven at 200C and bake for around 20 minutes till the tops are a nice golden brown. Brush with a bit of butter as soon as you take them out of the oven. 

Serve them warm or enjoy them at leisure with a bowl of soup. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Begun Pora - Roasted Eggpant Bengali Style

Begun Pora is one of those dishes that every Bengali has encountered at some time or the other in their life time. Like most vegetarian preparations of Bengali cuisine this is another exceptionally simple recipe that's big on flavour and taste, and therefore enjoys cult status.

Years ago when my Didin's sisters cooked on 'koyla'r unoon' or coal fed clay ovens the begun pora was made frequently. That flavour, of course, simply cannot be recreated on a gas stove, and even less in an electric oven. Still, for apartment inhabiting urban dwellers like us the only way to get a relatively good smokey begun pora is to roast it on the open gas flame. Yes, cleaning up after the roasting is a pain but then - no pain no begun pora!

There are many variations to the basic theme of roasted eggplants spiced up and served with rotis or parathas, across Indian cuisines. Some add a medley of spices, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and even curd. The version I like best, probably because that's what I grew up eating, is where the roasted eggplant is simply mashed up and mixed with raw onions, green chillies, fresh coriander, salt, and of course, mustard oil. There is no further cooking beyond roasting the eggplant till it is charred and the flesh is translucent. The smoked flavour dominates, the chillies add punch, the onions give crunch and texture, the coriander makes it fresh and vibrant, and the mustard oil stamps it as clearly Bengali.

Begun Pora

1 large 'bharta' Eggplant
1 medium onion, chopped
2 green chillies, chopped fine
A few sprigs fresh coriander leaves, chopped fine
mustard oil

Wash and dry the eggplant and then make four cuts from the tip to the base, leaving the stalk in place. If it's a really large eggplant make a few stabs in the four quarters just to help it roast quicker. Take a little mustard oil in your palm and coat the eggplant inside and out with the oil. Do this carefully so you don't break off any quarter from the stalk.

Roast the eggplant slowly over the gas flame. It took this one around 20 minutes to roast - I reduced the flame often so it would cook right through and not just burn on the outside. Make sure you monitor the roasting process - Not only can the eggplant burn, the gas flame might also go off because of the juices dripping from the eggplant. So pay attention and NEVER leave it unsupervised. Check the eggplant occasionally by inserting a knife into the flesh to see if it is cooked. The flesh should change colour and become translucent till right inside.

Once it's done take it off the flame and leave it in a plate or wide vessel to cool. Once it's cooled enough to handle peel off the charred peel of the eggplant.

Now add salt, a hefty slug of mustard oil, the chopped onions (chop the onions smallish - not too fine but not coarse either or they will be a little jarring as you eat), chillies, and coriander leaves and mash it up all up and mix well.

Break up the eggplant flesh as much as you can. Once it's all mixed just have a quick taste and adjust salt if required.

Serve the begun pora with hot phulkas or simple parathas. You can add this simple begun pora to a more elaborate menu as a flavourful side dish too.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Poached to Perfection - An Easy method for Poaching Eggs

Being married to a Parsi means eggs feature very often at breakfast in our house. Though I don't cook egg curries very often, fried eggs, omelettes, french toast, akuri, etc., are a very regular feature in the mornings. Breakfast is our favourite meal and we like to make a fuss over it adding cold cuts, cheeses, and of course, eggs to the meal. Over the years I have learned how to fry eggs perfectly but the perfect poached egg was still elusive.

I'd seen plenty of videos showing different techniques but I couldn't really master any of them. All that swirling the water and popping in the egg only resulted in a mess of stringy egg whites that looked like very ugly noodles instead of those perfect poached eggs ones saw demonstrated. I needed to find a way to keep the white together and without buying another rash of gadgets and doodads (yes, I'm trying hard not to buy stuff!).

After fooling around with various saucepans, bowls, and ladles I have finally figured out a simple technique that has worked very well, and repeatedly. This is one science project that has yielded good results!

Here's what you will need -

Fresh eggs
1 tbsp vinegar

A small deep saucepan
A large milk ladle
A flexible rubber spatula

And here's what to do -

Fill the saucepan about halfway up with water. Bring the water to a boil with the vinegar added to it.
In the ladle crack one egg and sprinkle with a little salt. Carefully lower the egg on to the water but don't submerge it. Let the lower side of the egg set with the heat from the water.

Tip the side of the ladle just a little and let very little water run onto the egg. Once again, be careful not to let the egg run out of the ladle or too much water get in. Be patient and do this with confidence and a steady hand.

Once the top of the egg is set let more water in and slowly submerge the ladle into the water. The water will foam up so keep an eye on things and don't let it spill over. Reduce the heat if required. Don't leave the egg submerged - let it stay under the hot water just a few seconds at a time.

Pour off any water from the ladle once the egg is done to your level of preference. Try to ensure that all the white is cooked.

Gently prise off the egg using the rubber spatula and slide it onto your ready plate or on a slice of toast.

It takes around three to four minutes to do each egg from start to finish so I make these on days when I'm not in a hurry. Patience is the key here so don't rush things. Make sure you have your equipment in place before you start. And use fresh eggs.

Did you know many Bengalis refer to the good old fried egg as 'dim'er poach'? You should have seen the hubby's face when my mum offered to make him a poach for breakfast when she visited the first time after we were married, and presented him with a perfectly fried egg! Well, my mother has also been educated in the finer points of egg dishes and their correct nomenclature since then, lol! 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Aar Machher Jhol - Another Bengali Fish Curry

As a child I hadn't eaten many varieties of fish beyond Rui and Katla, Chingri (prawns), and the occasional Ilish, Pabda, and Tyangra. Fresh water fish was available in Mumbai but the variety was quite limited. Thus my education about the immense variety of fish that is cooked in Bengali households was very severely lacking. It didn't help that not much other than Rui and Katla was cooked in my Didin's (mom's mom) kitchen so my exposure to fish was limited even in Kolkata, and since I was not an adventurous kid as far as food was concerned, I would refuse to eat any unfamiliar fish at other relatives' houses too.

My interest in food started when I was in the hostel in Pune while studying archaeology. I often cooked simple meals on a hot plate with basic vessels and a frugal pantry. Then I met the hubby and my exploration of food began in earnest. Eventually we married and have finally ended up living in Kharghar, a remote suburb in Navi Mumbai.

The best thing about life in Kharghar is my fish monger. Operating from a shop about 15 minutes away from my house, this fellow has a huge variety of fresh water and sea water fish available daily. All I do is call up to find out what's available on the day and place my order. My fish comes home to me, cleaned and cut as I like, neatly packed. It is from here that I have discovered new varieties of fish that I had never even heard of, let alone eaten. And one of these, Aar maach, has become a favourite now. It's a large fatty fish, no scales, and has very few bones.

Since there was no point in calling up my mum and asking her for a recipe I turned to good old Google. After browsing a little I realised that the best way to cook this beautiful fish is in the traditional jhol style, with onions and tomatoes, ginger and garlic, and green chillies for zest. It's a very delicate fish that tends to break quite easily, so handle it with care while cooking.

Aar Machh'er Jhol

5 or 6 pieces of Aar (around 500gms)
1 medium onion, finely sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped fine or pureed
1 tbsp fresh ginger-garlic paste
2 fresh green chillies
2 small Indian bay leaves
red chilli powder
mustard oil

Wash the fish gently and drain all water. Sprinkle with salt and turmeric and set aside for 10 minutes. In the mean time you can slice the onion, chop the tomato, and pound the ginger and garlic into a paste.
Heat mustard oil in a thick bottomed kadai. Once properly hot fry the fish, one or two pieces at a time. Flip the pieces carefully to cook both sides. Remove from the oil when you see the first hints on browning on the fish pieces. Set aside.

In the same oil throw in the green chillies and the Indian bay leaves. Add in the sliced onions and a pinch of sugar. Stir well and fry till the onions start to brown. Now add the ginger-garlic paste and fry for a minute. Keep the heat at medium throughout so things cook without burning. Add the tomato and cook further. Put in some turmeric, a teaspoon or so of chilli powder, and salt as required. Stir nicely to mix everything and let the spices cook properly.

Once the oil starts to separate from the mix pour in a generous cupful of water and bring it all to a boil. Slide in the fried pieces of fish and let the curry cook for another five minutes. Aar cooks quite fast so don't leave it to boil for too long.

Remove to a flat bottomed bowl and serve it with plain hot rice. Happiness will happen with the first mouthful :)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Oriental Hub, Vashi - For Want of a Copy Editor this Restaurant is Lost

There are new restaurants opening up in Navi Mumbai every month and the food scene here is quite exciting. I have been invited to a few previews now and then and have, over time, found a peculiar trend. Plenty of attention is paid to the decor, the cutlery and crockery, uniforms of the servers, the wine list, the dishes on the menu - everything that one would expect. Known as I am as a Grammar Nazi, I unfailingly read menus, flyers, and any other readable things within reach. And I find that the menus and other printed paraphernalia is invariably full of errors. Not just the random typo but serious errors.

Today we went to The Oriental Hub just opposite Inorbit Mall at Vashi. Another one of the many new eateries that have opened in the area, it looked promising enough from the outside. The interiors are spacious and well lit (I really dislike dimly lit restaurants because I like to see and often photograph what I'm eating).

Once we had settled into our seats we were promptly handed the menu cards. Now at most 'fine dine' places one expects a nice looking menu card. If nothing else at least a properly bound menu with neatly printed lists of the items available, sorted into the relevant categories. What we got were cheap plastic folders with photo copied sheets inserted into transparent plastic pockets. I was honestly quite startled. With most dishes priced between INR 300 and 500, this was not a low budget dining hall by any long shot.

While I was still recovering from this shabby menu card the hubby showed me a card placed on the table - It was about Chinese New Year and was attempting to say something intelligent. I will leave it to you to figure it out.

Yes, at first glance we all had a good laugh but it left me feeling irritated and disgruntled nevertheless. I went back to looking at the menu and in the next few minutes my irritation turned to anger and disgust. There were so many mistakes on that menu it became a game among the four of us at the table to find the next ridiculous entry. The menu covered Chinese, Thai and Malaysian dishes and, for some strange reason the Indian options were restricted just to kebabs - no main course, no breads/rice, no sides, no desserts.

Each entry on the menu was accompanied by a description of the dish, sometimes detailed and sometimes so short it wasn't even complete. There were innumerable errors and some of the descriptions made little sense, reading like those seemingly nonsensical results you get from Google Translate.

Take this description of Orange Darsaan - The description reads more like a terse recipe and there's no mention of orange anywhere. There's mango ice cream, though.

Even better (?) is the next dessert - the Tub Tim Grawp (?). Another cryptic sounding recipe, it makes me wonder what a guest will be served if the kitchen staff is following those instructions, and what a guest should expect after reading that.

The Sizzling Brownie entry also seems to be accompanied by a recipe meant for the kitchen instead of a tempting description of the dessert that would make your mouth water in anticipation.

And then there's the Date Pancake that doesn't even deserve a complete description. And don't miss the Treasure Bag - there are milk maids to be found inside!

The bloopers were all over the menu. Like these fairy hunans I saw lurking with the Shriraja sauce.

This ridiculous menu made me wonder why a business would spend several lakhs on renting space, doing up the interiors, hiring consultants to help finalise cuisines and menus, hiring staff, investing in equipment, and all the other associated paraphernalia but would not spend a relatively minuscule amount of money to get the content for menu cards and other things checked. Even a school going child with access to Google would be able to straighten out this ludicrous menu card.

That little promotional card set on every table - how much would it have cost this restaurant to hire a proper PR agency and get a correctly written promotional piece done? How much would it have cost The Oriental Hub to get get proper menu cards made?

About the food - We tried four starters - wasabi prawns, squid in plum sauce, chicken prawn baos, and a lamb starter whose name I don't remember. Apart from the baos being slightly underdone, everything else was quite nice. For mains we had Mei Goreng, and Lamb Rendang with steamed rice. My friends said the Mei Goreng was as removed from an authentic Mei Goreng as possible. If one didn't think of the dish as Mei Goreng it was quite nice, but that was not the point. The sauce of the lamb rendang was delicious but I found the lamb severely overcooked and my jaws ached from chewing endlessly. We cautiously ordered a single portion of dessert - the Lime and Lemon Creambrule. It was an untidily made dessert that had no trace of lime or lemon in it. The hubby said it was a simple egg custard with no cream anywhere. We did mention this to the restaurant manager who noted our dissatisfaction and we were not charged for the dessert.

We paid approximately INR 4,000 for a meal for four. At that price I do not expect a cheap plastic folder with crookedly photocopied sheets, not to mention the rubbish they have printed on it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Randhuni diye Musuri'r Daal - Masoor Daal with Randhuni

The jar of randhuni (ajmod/ajmoda in Hindi) had been sitting in the pantry for many months. The contents had been refreshed a couple of times - old and stale randhuni thrown away and fresh stock emptied into the washed jar. I needed to break this cycle but I really had no idea what randhuni was used in apart from sukto. Not that I had got around to making even sukto, but then I don't particularly like sukto so I am sort of justified. But that randhuni was still there, waiting and watching.

The obvious thing to do was to look in the myriad cookbooks I own. Laziness coupled with the fact that though I read Bengali, I'm not all that proficient, ensured that I didn't look. Ultimately I turned to Google one day to see if I could find anything interesting. And that's where I found mention of randhuni diye musuri'r daal among a few other preparations. Bengalis love masoor daal and have a huge variety of recipes involving delicate tempering and this particular version was so incredibly frugal I was intrigued but not very confident about how it would turn out.

Around the same time my friend Bhavna was going to be visiting Mumbai from Australia and I would be meeting her for the first time. She expressed a desire to eat a Bengali meal and I promptly volunteered to cook it for her. I added randhuni diye musuri'r daal to my menu. Though I cooked a lot of other dishes for that meal, this fragrant and supremely delicate daal was my top pick of the meal.

Randhuni diye Musuri'r Daal

1 cup masoor daal, washed well
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp randhuni
1 generous tbsp ghee
2 green chillies, not a hot variety

Pressure cook the washed daal with turmeric and enough water. Don't cook it till the daal grains disintegrate completely - Bengalis like their daal to retain is shape and have texture. Lightly stir the cooked daal to integrate the water and daal grains (or flakes, since they look like flakes).

Heat ghee in a tempering pan if you have one, or just use a kadai. Once the ghee is hot drop in the green chillies and then the randhuni seeds. Once the seeds are sizzling uniformly chuck the whole lot into the daal. Add salt as required and bring it all to a nice boil.

Remove to a serving bowl and serve with plain hot rice. You can add a simple vegetable stir fry alongside, or a slice of fried fish too. Simple is the key here.

Traditionally the tempering is done in mustard oil though I used home made buffalo milk ghee instead. The use of randhuni is not restricted to just the Bengalis in India, but it is restricted to the eastern states of Bihar, Assam and U.P., as far as I know. This spice has a strong unique flavour and must be used in small quantities so it doesn't over power. Used correctly randhuni is quite magical!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

2016 A Year of Learning. Hands On.

I try to have a focus for every year from the point of view of food blogging and this year it's learning. Exciting or interesting food so far has been mostly about chance encounters - a meal at a restaurant, a meal at a friend's place, a meal at a wedding, a pot luck somewhere, goodies sampled at a food event, food explored while travelling, recipes recreated in my kitchen, recipes developed for Katy's Kitchen, etc. There has been a randomness attached to my food experiences and I have enjoyed it thoroughly. But as I encountered food in this random fashion I developed a thirst to look beyond the immediate experience of eating and subsequently finding out the recipes. The way I was looking at food was changing, my questions were changing. I discovered a need to delve beyond the obvious and a need to learn more than the superficial.

My visits to Kolkata were the usual trips to meet family, have fun with the cousins, eat out at the usual haunts, check out the new joints, and shop for a predictable few things. A few years ago out of sheer boredom I went to wander around in produce section of Gariahat market instead of the usual shops that sell clothes, jewellery, cosmetics, etc. It was an experience I will never forget. I saw vegetables, fruit, fresh meat, fresh fish, household paraphernalia, accessories used in pujas and rituals, and lots more. I was looking at it all differently because I went with a camera. I came home with innumerable terrible photographs but the experience was a revelation - I looked at produce differently. I paid attention to the names, I looked at the appearance of the ingredients with more attention, I literally saw things with a renewed eye. I hadn't realised it then but a new journey had just begun.

Of course I had been to Crawford market a zillion times before, especially to shop for the business, but I never really looked at things. Not properly. Not with this kind of interest. No questions popped into my head. I have, since that time in Gariahat market with my camera, found great joy in markets. I have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit in the subsequent years and I have trawled the markets in Cochin, Guwahati, Shillong, Goa, Old Delhi, Gurgaon, many villages in the Konkan, and of course, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Navi Mumbai.

But the point was not in wandering around and clicking photos. The point was to look and to learn. And I did. The sheer variety of produce available in this country is mind boggling and I can confidently say I have seen new things, stuff I'd never even heard of before, in almost every market I have visited. The next obvious step was finding out about the new things - what is it called, how is it eaten, what does it taste like, where does it grow, and so on.

The curiosity about Indian foods, ingredients, and cuisines meant I was also looking for reading material and so I started buying cookbooks that focused on regional cuisines of the country. In no time I had a huge pile of new cookbooks frowning at me from the book shelves. So this year I will move the learning from my comfortable chair where I read these books and drool over the photographs (and props!) to my kitchen. There's no better way to connect with a dish or a cuisine than cooking it yourself. When you do it all from scratch, follow the processes, handle the ingredients, and ultimately taste the results, your connection with it is stronger, your understanding is better.

This year it's time to cook. And learn.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The CKP Food Festival, Thane

Stall owners dancing to the catchy music while serving customers

Food festivals are becoming increasingly common in Mumbai and the ones I look forward to the most are those that showcase the cuisine of a particular community. I've been to numerous Koli food fests and even a couple organised by the Pathare Prabhus (in fact I missed their last event because I was away, holidaying in north India). I heard of the CKP festival from my friend Manisha and made a mental note to attend this one for sure.

The Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus are supposedly the descendants of a King Chandrasen of Kashmir. Commonly known as CKPs, the community is now concentrated mainly in Maharashtra and in parts of Gujarat and Central India. I have always known them to be a well entrenched Maharashtrian community and I was delighted to see their love for robust non vegetarian food at the CKP festival! 

The fest was at the CKP Hall in Thane and what I really loved was the welcome visitors received - a man in full costume blew a blast of his tutari as a ceremonial welcome. It just set the mood for the good time ahead!

Photo credit - Kurush Dalal

We had a quick browse through the business (non food) stalls where I chanced upon one selling the prettiest clutches, purses, and handbags covered in traditional Paithani saree fabric. Yes, I made the hubby buy me one.

We moved on to where the real action was - the two food courts spread across the entire first floor of the building. The blast of aromas that hit the nose as soon as we stepped out of the lift gave us an indication of the deliciousness that was to follow. We decided to move systematically from stall to stall instead of randomly roaming around and that was a great decision as we got to taste a whole lot of preparations without repeating stuff or missing out on anything. It also helped that we were four of us - we could taste that much more without feeling stuffed too soon! 

There was a mind boggling variety of food, most of which I had never eaten or even heard of before. Like the Kheemyache Modak - modaks stuffed with goat mince. And the Kaleji Dabeli - liver stuffed in pav - which I suspect was a smart innovation and not a traditional dish. It was delicious so it doesn't really matter! 

These are the mince stuffed modaks. The only modak I knew about was the traditional sweet filled one that's offered to Ganpati - not on my list of things I like to eat. But these! Oh yeah, bring them on!

The kaleji dabelis. These are prepped and ready to be toasted in a ton of butter on a hot griddle before serving. Lots of liver, crunchy onions and plenty of fresh coriander made these one of the best things we ate at the fest. As we waited for our dabelis to be toasted the music came on and the atmosphere in the hall changed completely - everyone around started to shake a leg and that included stall owners too. Our dabelis did taste so much better because the chefs had such a blast while making them :)

We moved on to the next stall where we had kolambi pattice and kolambi fry - Potato covered prawn patties, and masala fried prawns with a rawa coating. Both were simply superb. We resisted having seconds only because there was so much more food to explore as we went on.

See those tiny shrimp in there? Packed with flavour, perfectly cooked, these patties were great. The only fly in the ointment was a near absence of salt in the potato casing and in the filling. I could only imagine how awesome these would have been if they had been seasoned properly.

Prawns are tricky and if not properly fried they can turn into awful rubbery bullets. These were done to perfection and we wolfed them down in seconds. Finger licking good they were.

At the next stall we had some paya soup. It was a nice change from all the fried goodies and went down a treat.

Next up was some fried fish. We'd had a slice of Jitada fry earlier so now we opted for a slice of surmai, and another lot of prawns which looked quite different from the ones we'd had earlier. The surmai was lovely, soft, moist, and flaky - but once again there was a serious lack of salt and that did ruin the pleasure considerably. The prawns were seasoned better and were delicious.

Somewhere along the way we picked up a cup of dessert - Ninav Cheesecake. Ninav is a dessert made mainly with wheat and gram flour, jaggery, ghee, coconut milk, and some other ingredients. The ninav was made into a base topped with a cheesecake mix. Quite innovative, I thought, and the hubby liked it.

There was so much more to eat but we were already quite stuffed.

Assorted fried fish.

As we walked around the stalls I saw a sign advertising something called Shevala Kheema. It reminded me of a post Kurush had written about Raanachi Bhaji or forest greens that are popular in Maharashtra where he mentions shevaal, a seasonal plant that is relished in season. I tasted a tiny bit and immediately knew we had to pack some to enjoy later at home. Here was another dish I had never eaten before.

One of the last things we tried was this clam curry. It was the only thing we didn't like among all that we ate. It seemed bland and boring and appealed to none of us.

As we proceeded further among the stalls we packed a few things to take home and eat later. Unfortunately we had to also skip a lot of dishes - there was just so much! Here are a few photos of the other food on display.

Crab curry

Chicken. I just fell in love with this copper vessel! 

Bhakris and chapatis

Prawn Curry

 Mutton Sukke

Mutton Liver Masala
One of the few vegetarian dishes on offer - Vaalachi Khichadi

Prawn Bhajiyas

And that's us at the end of our eatathon at the CKP food fest! 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Haat in the Heart of the City- A Real Farmers' Market in Gurgaon

I was packing at the end of my holiday. Things were strewn all over the bed and my suitcase and rucksack were on the window-seat in my room. As I juggled clothes, packets of spices, a bunch of black carrots, and other miscellaneous bits of shopping, I happened to glance out of the window to the vast open ground across the busy road. I saw a temporary market coming up - tarps were being laid out, small pick up trucks and tempos were being unloaded, bright LED lights were being set up. I dug out the DSLR and zoomed in to have a look - the camera works very well as a binocular! It was a weekly bazaar - a haat. I couldn't wait to go check it out. If I could trudge across from Gurgaon to Khari Baoli in Old Delhi there was no way I wasn't going to hop across the road right here at home.

My cousin Atanu was happy to come along with me and we set off to take a look. I'd seen piles of cauliflower, carrots, onions, potatoes, and loads of fresh greens, and I was hoping to see some less familiar produce too.

The place was teeming with people - labourers, craftsmen, housemaids, rickshaw drivers, but no one from the many high rise towers that are just across the road. The sellers had set up their shops on the ground and there were piles of vegetables in front of them, just haphazardly placed. There was quite a cacophony of voices and we stood out like a pair of very sore thumbs! We went around 9pm and things were already dying down by then; the market started earlier in the evening around 6 o' clock. This is a weekly haat and seems to be quite a popular one because there were at least 30 to 40 vegetable sellers and a line up of snack sellers on one side catering to the crowd.

I ignored the snack stalls and jumped into the fray with the crowd, looking to see what vegetables were up for grabs. I was hoping I would find some more of those famous 'kaale gajar'. I'd bought a conservative 500gms at Khari Baoli and I yearned to buy more.Fingers crossed! At first glance it seemed like a sea of beautiful, juicy, red carrots, fresh white cauliflowers, and an array of glistening green leafy spinach, methi, mustard greens, etc.

As we wandered around among the vendors I saw huge beetroots, lotus stems, colocasia roots, little hillocks of green peas, and something called maati aloo which I have never seen before. I regret not buying any though I did take a photo.

There were huge flat 'papdi' beans, white turnips with a purple blush, mounds of garlic, onions, potatoes, cabbages, and many varieties of brinjal - one was big, round and purple, while another was like large green mottled eggs. And then my heart stopped - kaale gajar! There were just a few left - so I bought the lot.

We also came home with a bag full of tender finger-like red carrots, some arbi, a cauliflower, and some big fat gorgeously green papdi or 'seem' as we Bengalis call them.

There was too much frantic activity around so I couldn't ask much about the market but I can tell you it's in the field opposite Jalvayu Towers in Sector 56, Gurgaon. If you know the Tau Devi Lal Biodiversity Park, it's just behind. Follow the perimeter of the park and you will see the lights of the haat in the evening. The haat is on every Thursday in the evenings all through the year.

Ditch the air-conditoned aisles at Spencer's and come get your veggies from here next week. You'll find more at the haat. This is what a real farmers' market is, not those ones that are held on 5 star hotel grounds.